multichannel connect
careers
all access

Policy

Commish Bolts for Comcast

5/16/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — There was an empty chair at last week’s
public Federal Communications Commission meeting,
after the surprise announcement of Republican commissioner
Meredith Attwell
Baker’s exit to become a government-
affairs executive
for Comcast/NBC Universal
here. Baker was praised by
her colleagues, but the move
was pilloried by some public-
interest groups as another
example of the revolving
door between industry and
government, even as names
began to surface for a possible
replacement.

Until that replacement
can be nominated and confirmed — which is certainly
months away — the commission
will comprise three
Democrats and only a single
Republican, commissioner Robert McDowell.

The move does not represent a big change in the FCC’s
political dynamics, certainly not as much as the departure
of a Democrat that would leave the commission at a
2-2 tie in terms of party affiliation. And as McDowell has
pointed out on numerous occasions, some 95% of FCC decisions
are unanimous.

Further — unlike the previous commission under Republican
Kevin Martin — there had been no history of
cross-party coalitions that a departure would break up.

DEADLOCK AVERTED?

But Comcast may have done FCC chairman Julius Genachowski
a favor by removing the possibility of a deadlocked
2-2 commission should Democrat Michael Copps leave
before the end of this year, or should no replacement be
found by December.

The leading candidate to replace Copps is believed to be
Jessica Rosenworcel, communications counsel on the Senate
Commerce Committee.

Baker will not be able to lobby the FCC for two years or
executive-branch officials for the remainder of the Obama
administration, having signed the admistration’s ethics
pledge. In a statement late last week, Baker said she complied
with all ethics laws and had gone further, not voting
on any item since entering into discussions about the
NBCU job offer.

“Not once in my entire tenure as a Commissioner had
anyone at Comcast or NBC Universal approached me
about potential employment,” she said. “When this opportunity
became available in mid-April, I made a personal
decision that I wanted to give it serious consideration … I
plan to depart the Commission as soon as I am able to ensure
an orderly wind-down of my office.”

Baker, who was keeping a low profile last week — she
bowed out of a reform hearing on the Hill, where all the
commissioners were scheduled to appear — will exit as
soon as she can wind down her FCC affairs to become senior
vice president, government affairs, for NBCU. Bob
Okun, who had headed up government affairs for NBCU
in Washington, announced
last month he would be exiting
to start his own consulting
firm, with the media
firm as one of his first clients.

Baker will be based in
Washington and report
to Kyle McSlarrow, newly
minted president of Comcast/
NBC Universal for
Washington. She’ll work
closely with Rick Cotton,
NBCU executive vice president
and general counsel.

“I’ve been privileged to
serve in government for
the past seven years under
President Obama at the
FCC and President Bush at
NTIA; I’m excited to embark
on a new phase of my career
with Comcast and NBC Universal,” she said in a statement.

Baker joined the commission in July 2009 after having
served as head of the National Telecommunications & Information
Administration. There, she oversaw the digital-
TV converter-box program.

“Commissioner Baker is one of the nation’s leading authorities
on communications policy, and we’re thrilled
she’s agreed to head the government-relations operations
for NBC Universal,” McSlarrow said in announcing the
Baker hire.

Baker’s move came only four months after she voted to
approve the merger of Comcast/NBCU and expressed concerns
about some of the conditions, “voluntary” and otherwise,
imposed on it.

That drew fire from Capitol Hill and some in anti-consolidation
circles.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), one of the Comcast/
NBCU deal’s strongest critics, was equally critical of Baker’s
announced exit. “FCC commissioner Meredith Baker’s
announcement today that she will resign from the Commission
to lobby for Comcast/NBC Universal, mere months
after casting her yes vote to approve the merger, further
confirms my suspicion that the Commission’s merger review
— in cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ)
— was overly politicized and rammed through in blatant
disregard for the agencies’ responsibility to the American
people,” Waters said in an e-mail statement.

Free Press, which was critical of the Comcast/NBCU
merger — which Baker supported, along with the other
commissioners — slammed the hire as a Comcast/FCC
merger.

TIMING QUESTIONED

“Less than four months after
Commissioner Baker
voted to approve Comcast’s
takeover of NBC Universal,
she’s … departing the FCC
to lobby for Comcast-NBC,”
Free Press president Craig
Aaron said. “This is just the
latest — though perhaps
most blatant — example of
a so-called public servant
cashing in at a company
she is supposed to be regulating.”

But one consolidation critic
was accentuating the positive.
“Commissioner Baker
has been a consummate
public servant,” Andrew Jay
Schwartzman, Media Access Project’s senior vice president
and policy director, said in a statement.

“While her viewpoints have often differed from ours,
she has always been open-minded, conscientious and
dedicated to acting in the public interest as she saw it,”
he said.

Schwartzman said he still had problems with the socalled
revolving-door issue in general, but that Baker’s exit
was not better or worse than others.

 

Alert to All Users of the Disqus commenting system:
Because of a recent global security issue, the Disqus website recommends that all users change their Disqus passwords. Here's a URL about the issue:
http://engineering.disqus.com/2014/04/10/heartbleed.html

 

April