Farewell to Commissioner Deborah Tate

As I observed back awhile ago when describing possible scenarios for the FCC, Commissioner Deborah Tate would need to depart when the 110th Congress expired and the 111th Congress convened at Noon on January 3, 2009. So, at the FCC’s pro forma meeting on December 30, Commissioner Tate stepped down and made her farewell address. Despite the rather tense atmosphere that often prevails on the 8th Floor of the FCC these day, her fellow Commissioners used most of the meeting time to say many nice things in appreciation of her tenure.

Allow me to add my own appreciation for Commissioner Tate’s service. This may come as a surprise to some, given that I disagreed with Tate a fair amount on most matters of substance. As others have noted, Tate voted along fairly standard Republican lines — generally shying away from regulation of “the market” despite a sincere concern about consumer welfare. (I should add that despite her much publicized comments about the dangers of Worlds of Warcraft, her support for strong digital right management and urging ISPs do more to block content potentially harmful to minors, Tate still generally followed a deregulatory line in simply urging industry to voluntarily do more and raising this in the context of voting against the Comcast/Bittorrent Order).

But let me tell a little story below which illustrates why Commissioner Tate deserves a respectful farewell even from staunch progressives such as myself.

More below . . . .

It was Friday October 31, the last day before the record closed in the White Space proceeding. CTIA and others determined to derail the unlicensed use of broadcast white spacemade one last push to keep the exclusive licensed option alive in a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Like many of those intensely involved in the proceeding, I made requests first thing in the morning for a last chance to explain to each Commissioner’s office why keeping the licensed option alive would effectively kill any hope that companies would invest in developing unlicensed technologies for the band.

To her credit, Commissioner Tate gave me ten minutes of her time for my last minute appeal. As I remarked to her then, and as others should bear in mind, it is easy to take that last minute call when it comes from Larry Page or Bill Gates. It take a genuine willingness to listen to all sides to take that call when it comes from public interest lawyer guy.

Throughout her tenure, Commissioner Tate and her staff always made time to see me or my public interest colleagues to give us a chance to present our case and give us a fair hearing. Often we disagreed — Tate would have preferred to have kept the licensing option alive, for example — but she absolutely did her job of listening to all perspectives and weighing the evidence.

I cannot say I am sorry that Commissioner Tate will be replaced with a Democrat, giving the FCC a 3-2 Democratic majority. I am proud to be a Progressive Democrat, and hope the next FCC will set appropriate ground rules to ensure competitive markets and enforce vigorous afeguards for consumers rather than rely on a “bully pulpit” to try to cajole industry to stop wielding market power against potential rivals or stop maximizing profit at the expense of consumer welfare. But I respect and appreciate Former Commissioner Deborah Tate as a woman who tried to do a tough job with fairness to all parties, and who always exemplified the idea that we can disagree — often passionately — without being disagreeable.

At the end of the day, Deborah Tate has been a class act who regarded herself as appointed to serve the American people, not simply the Republican Party and to Heck with the rest of us. That counts for a lot, and we should not forget it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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