James H. Quello, 95, a veteran former FCC commissioner friendly to broadcasters from the 1970s to the 1990s, died on Jan. 24 at his home in Alexandria, VA. The cause was heart and kidney failure.
Quello, a former broadcaster himself, was appointed to his FCC seat in 1974 by former President Richard M. Nixon. The president, a Republican, was required to appoint a Democrat to the commission in order to maintain a required one-vote majority for the incumbent party.
Although a Democrat, Quello's critics complained that he had given $1100 to Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign and that he was too close to other Republican leaders, like Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, who later became president.
Ralph Nader and other consumer advocates called Quello a pawn of the radio and television industry. Nicholas Johnson, an outspoken critic of broadcasters whom Quello had replaced as commissioner, called his appointment “abysmal and preposterous.”
Yet, Quello unabashedly championed the causes of broadcasters. He supported the television networks in their battle against programming requirements for children, arguing that such rules infringe on First Amendment guarantees of free speech. He reversed this position in 1996 after many congressmen and senators demanded it.
In 1993, while Quello was the acting chairman of the FCC, the agency issued regulations for the first auction of the nation’s airwaves, wrote rules to govern the quality of cable television service and vastly expanded opportunities for new wireless phone services.
Quello later worked with commissioners to write many new rules after Congress passed the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, which fostered more competition in the marketplace and also led to a concentration of media ownership.