FCC Gets New Chief at Crucial Time in Telecom : Communications: Antitrust lawyer Reed E. Hundt's confirmation ends months of delay. Agency still has one vacancy.


After months of foot-dragging over President Clinton's choice to head the Federal Communications Commission, the Senate has confirmed Washington antitrust lawyer Reed E. Hundt as the agency's new chairman.

Hundt, a 45-year-old Washington lawyer nominated by Clinton on June 1, is scheduled to be sworn in next week in a ceremony presided over by former prep school classmate Vice President Al Gore. However, Clinton is not expected to fill the remaining FCC commissioner vacancy for some time.

Hundt's confirmation comes at a critical time for the telecommunications field. The nearly six-month impasse over his nomination broke Saturday morning, apparently after the White House jettisoned its previous list of candidates for the yet-to-be-filled slot at the five-member FCC and sought candidates for both the FCC and several other federal agencies that would be more acceptable to Sen. Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.).

In recent weeks, the FCC's three incumbent commissioners have grown more anxious over delays in filling the vacancies at the agency.

"We desperately need a full complement of commissioners," Commissioner Ervin S. Duggan at an industry conference hosted by Broadcasting & Cable magazine earlier this month. The FCC will face administrative gridlock, Duggan said, without "the release of Reed Hundt as soon as possible."

Indeed, Hundt will join an agency facing a revolution in information technology. The FCC is in the midst of defining how the burgeoning telecommunications industry will deal with technologies such as high-definition television and wireless telecommunications.

As an attorney with the Washington law firm of Latham & Watkins, Hundt specialized mostly in antitrust law and had little experience with telecommunications matters. But his close ties to the White House are expected to bolster support for more federal oversight of the cable TV industry.

The leading candidate for the last FCC slot reportedly is Republican communications lawyer Rachelle B. Chong of San Francisco. She is a member of the Federal Communications Bar Assn. and the Asian American Bar Assn. and is principal regulatory legal adviser for several cellular firms, including Pacific Telesis. A source close to the White House said a final choice has not been settled on. Neither Hundt nor Chong could be reached for comment.

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