An FCC commissioner who argued for and voted to approve Comcast's $6.5bn borging of NBC Universal is quitting her government position to become a lobbyist for the communications and media giant she helped to bring into existence.
Meredith Attwell Baker – who was one of two Republicans serving on the five-member commission – will become the new senior vice president of government affairs for NBC Universal, just four months after the commission approved Comcast's NBC takeover.
When the FCC voted four-to-one in favor of the Comcast/NBC deal, just one Democrat dissented, saying it conferred too much power in one company's hands. Baker disagreed, writing in a joint statement with the assenting commissioners that the deal had "the potential to bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms."
Baker went on to complain in March that the FCC's scrutiny of the deal had taken too long. Not that her opinion of the timing was unique: Baker feels that for the last decade, FCC review processes have dragged on for too long.
In a glowing farewell statement on Wednesday, Baker said she was happy to have played a small part in the deployment of broadband in the US. "I depart most proud of our collective efforts to focus on long-term comprehensive spectrum reform," she said. "It is the most important step we can take to ensure our nation's competitiveness in an increasingly interconnected world."
She made no mention of the fact she will soon start lobbying government bodies such as the FCC on behalf of one of America's largest broadband providers – although government rules will prevent Baker from lobbying any executive branch or agency official on matters related to the Comcast-NBC merger for the remainder of the current administration.
It is increasingly common in US politics for regulators and politicians, especially Republicans, to join the industries they had once regulated. This March, for example, former FCC chairman Michael Powell became head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the principal trade association of the US cable industry.
On joining that group, Powell trotted out some Norman Rockwell boilerplate that paid tribute to the great cable providers of the US in their ceaseless efforts to make America number one and to put the educational needs of children – yes, the needs of children – first:
The broadband platform the industry has deployed is a critical part of the infrastructure needed to realize our national ambition to be a great nation in the Information Age. I am excited to help lead companies committed not only to their businesses, but to improving US competitiveness and supporting invaluable programs in important areas such as education.
Powell and Baker won't be the last regulators to cross over, but their doing so sends yet another unsettling signal to consumer-rights advocates about the cozy nature that exists between the US government and the corporations it regulates regarding mega-mergers and other matters that affect the average citizen.
Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of public-interest lobbying group Free Press, in a response blasting Baker's move, called it the "latest – though perhaps most blatant – example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating."
Aaron continued: "The continuously revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy. We hope – but won't hold our breath – that her replacement will be someone who is not just greasing the way for their next industry job."
Baker's announcement comes on the same day that AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson and T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm defended their companies' proposed $39bn merger before the US Senate's Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee. That deal that would combine the second and third largest US wireless telcos to produce America's single largest provider. ®