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Tribute To Commissioner Michael Copps

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV

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Madam President, I rise to honor Dr. Michael Copps. At the end of last year, Dr. Copps retired from public service--though not from public life.

For those of you who do not know him, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about him, the life he has led, what he has done for this country--and what he has done for all of us.

After earning a doctorate in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina, Dr. Copps headed south to the Big Easy. He taught history at Loyola University in New Orleans. It was there that he met his wife Beth.

Academe had its pull. But so did Washington. So in 1970, he convinced his wife to pack up their life and move north to the capital. He heard the call of policy and politics and told her that after he got it out of his system, he would head back to university life.

He never did head back to the halls of the academy. But his keen mind, calm demeanor, and dedication to the public interest have taught all of us about what it is to lead an honorable life in public service.

He started in Washington in the office of Senator Fritz Hollings. He eventually served for over a dozen years as Senator Hollings' chief of staff. He is well known and well loved by so many who served in the office of the South Carolina Senator. I know that Fritz Hollings too is proud to call him a colleague and friend.

From the Halls of the Senate, he headed on to industry. He took on policy operations in Washington for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. He also worked at a major trade association.

With the election of President Clinton, however, he again heard the call of government service. He first served as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce. During his tenure, he fostered public sector and private sector cooperation to strengthen American industry. He led the U.S.-Russia Business Development Committee's oil and gas working group. In this role, he pushed successfully for the removal of an export tax for U.S. companies shipping oil out of Russia. He negotiated power, chemical, and automotive policies with China. He built partnerships involving forest products, agriculture products, and electrical power in Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey. He assisted generously with global automotive negotiations and trade promotion initiatives.

Five years later, he was nominated and confirmed by this body, for Assistant Secretary for Trade Development at the U.S Department of Commerce. Again, he served nobly. He worked with the private sector to expand commercial opportunities for U.S. businesses in the global economy. He oversaw a reorganization of trade development within the Department, creating a new office focused on information technologies industries. He also advocated internationally for the creation of independent telecommunications regulatory regimes, transparent legal authority for telecommunications, and investor-friendly climates for information technology.

He did all of these things at the Department of Commerce with his characteristic force, impressive analytical skills, and customary grace.

But it was only sometime after his tenure at the Department of Commerce that I really came to know Dr. Copps. That was when, in 2001, he was first nominated, and later confirmed, for the role of Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. He brought to the role the same energy and enthusiasm that he displayed at the Department of Commerce. He brought the same sense of conviction, and he brought the same belief that through expanding the stakeholders in any dialogue, we can enrich our conversation, grow our economy, and enhance our public life.

His accomplishments over the course of his two terms at the agency are too numerous to mention. So I will dwell only on a few.

First, as the Acting Chairman of the agency he led the national transition to digital television. He was the man in charge of keeping the television on, as our Nation's broadcasters ceased sending signals in analog form. His calm, clear focus, and ability to marshal public and private efforts to manage the transition kept millions and millions of households with access to television news, emergency information, and entertainment.

Second, he called early and often for policies to support broadband, understanding well before others that broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of our age. It was here that his eye for history served him especially well, as he analogized between broadband networks and the railroads that criss-crossed our country more than a century before; between opening ports to new markets and opening communities through new communications networks; and between the need for our interstate highway system and the need for new broadband byways. He called for a national broadband plan well before it was popular to do so. He reminded us that rural Americans must not be left on the wrong side of the digital divide. In fact, he tirelessly pressured to expand service to the historically underserved--from rural areas, to Indian Country, to those with disabilities, and more--believing that access to communications technologies strengthens our economy and our democracy.

Third, he was an early champion of the open and free Internet. As our lives migrated online, he saw the risks posed by the control of both connectivity and content. He gave early voice to basic concepts that grew to become network neutrality.

Fourth, and finally--he has emerged as an important voice on media policy. He has never shied from asking the hard questions about our media institutions. He has criticized media concentration for diluting the diversity, localism, and competition we need in our information sources. He has worried for all of us that with the shuttering of newspapers and thinning of journalism's ranks, we are doing great harm to the public's need to know. He was not blind to the great informational promise of the Internet, but instead a realist about its near-term journalistic limitations. Without an informed citizenry, he reminded us over and over again, we risk what is essential for democracy. His zeal for this issue was anything but academic. He took to the road and held countless hearings outside of Washington--giving thousands of people across the country the opportunity to speak about the changes in our media landscape, and the information they need in their communities.

As part of this, he also pressed for less indecency in the media, and less coarse content on our airwaves. His media policies had fans and also detractors. But both uniformly respected how he took on these issues and how deeply committed he was to his cause.

Simply put, they do not make men like Michael Copps anymore. He represents the best in public service. So as Dr. Copps turns in his badge and turns to spending more time with Beth and their family of five children, I wanted to come to the floor and congratulate him on his accomplishments. His has set an example for all of us. This one-time history professor has earned his place in history. I know I am grateful for his service to this country. I am also grateful to call him a friend.