Attwell Baker announces FCC departure for Comcast/NBCU position

FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker announced May 11 her decision to leave the agency to take a position as senior vice president of government affairs at Comcast/NBCU.

According to a statement on the FCC website, Baker notified President Barack Obama in a letter sent the same day of her decision. Baker, whose term as a commissioner began in July 2009, originally announced her intention to leave the agency June 3, but subsequently said she would leave “as soon as I am able to ensure an orderly wind down of my office.”

Baker has served as a commissioner while the FCC has pursued the vision laid out in its National Broadband Plan, which includes a variety of steps aimed at recouping 120MHz of TV spectrum to meet future wireless broadband Internet demand. At the 2011 NAB Show, Baker expressed the wish that the commission would have begun its spectrum overhaul with satellite spectrum.

“That might have been an easier proof of concept,” she said during an NAB Show session.

In announcing her decision to leave the FCC, Baker said she was “most proud of our collective efforts to focus on long-term comprehensive spectrum reform.” Of the five commissioners currently heading the agency, Baker perhaps has been most willing to consider the possibility of transitioning TV broadcasting to newer compression and more efficient modulation technologies as part of the strategy to meet the nation’s wireless capacity needs. Before casting her December 2010 vote for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revamp existing TV spectrum regulations, Baker said future discussions should include “the possibility of a transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, the adoption of a more cellularized broadcast system or a transition from ATSC to OFDM technologies.”

Another important proceeding during Baker’s tenure as a commissioner was approval in January of the Comcast-NBCU deal. Two days after announcing her decision to leave the commission, Baker issued a statement on the FCC website saying no one from Comcast or NBCU ever approached her about possible employment. When the position became available, Baker “immediately sought counsel from the general counsel of the FCC” and recused herself on April 18 “from any matters involving Comcast or NBCUniversal,” the statement said.

“I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further. I have not participated or voted any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBCUniversal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment,” she said in the statement.

Baker won praise from NAB CEO and President Gordon Smith.

"With a winning combination of integrity, intellect and experience, Meredith Baker will be a key player for NBCUniversal, and I know that her in-depth knowledge of broadcast issues, deep understanding of the D.C. landscape and strong leadership abilities will make her an important resource for the entire broadcast industry," said Smith in a statement posted on the association’s website.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, likewise praised Baker.

“Meredith’s wonderful spirit, broad experience and deep policy acumen have made the FCC a more effective agency. She’s made our decisions smarter and our policies better,” he said.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.