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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Michigan PSC Hot for FCC Seat
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Communications Daily reports (subscription only) that all three members of the Michigan Public Service Commission signed a letter urging President Bush to "move swiftly forward" to appoint Commissioner Adelstein to a second term. Unconfirmed reports suggest that other state regulators are advocating in a similar manner.

I have no quarrel with Adelstein. In fact, I believe he often articulates important points at the Commission. The good people at the Michigan PSC obviously are willing to go one step further. The letter cites "an outstanding job" done by Adelstein representing rural interests.

Granted, prior to coming to the Commission, Adelstein worked for Senator Daschle, a king-pin for "rural interests" in the United States Senate. Earlier in his career he also worked for Donald W. Riegle, Jr., a Senator from Michigan, and he hails from South Dakota where he presumably learned firsthand about rural interests. When Michigan officials assert that he represents important rural interests, I take the claim at face value. My problem is not with his qualifications or record of service at the Commission. It is with the actions of the Michigan PSC.

Appointed state regulators are lobbying - in their official capacity, not as private citizens - to influence the composition of a federal agency with whom they must deal. This steps over the bounds. The PSC exists to administer state law. The lobbying also cheapens Adelstein and his position. He is being treated like a stretch of federal highway or the official name of a local post office. Their actions suggest that a FCC Commissioner is political plum used as a tool to assuage constituencies rather than as an independent, expert administrator of the nation's communications law. Finally, the federal system of government relies on distinctions between national and state governments. Each has a role and significant power. True, communications law has blurred these differences for years but there is little doubt that there ought to be a distinction. Take for example the strenuous arguments by states for more control of retail rate regulation. Unfortunately, the Michigan PSC did not just go one step further that I would go, it went one step too far.

Update: Last week, members of the Nebraska PSC voted unanimously to give their support to Commissioner Adelstein's cause. A letter to the President is forthcoming.

posted by @ 6:30 PM | General

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