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FCC’s Longest-Serving Commissioner, Robert McDowell, to Step Down

WASHINGTON – Robert McDowell is cutting bait after serving nearly seven years on the Federal Communications Commission. McDowell made the announcement Wednesday at the commission’s monthly open meeting.

“After a great deal of deliberation, I have decided that I will step down as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission in a few weeks,” he said in a prepared statement. McDowell said it was time he turned his attention toward a higher calling: “Serving my family.”

McDowell, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, has been an independent thinker throughout his tenure on the commission. As the third Republican on the commission under the chairmanship of Kevin Martin, McDowell followed his own counsel, criticizing the commission’s lack of preparation in helping the public through the DTV transition. Under the leadership of Democratic Chairman Julius Genachowski, he was the lone commissioner to oppose the online publication of political advertising rates.

He also called out Comcast for spectrum speculation when it offered up undeveloped Advanced Wireless Licenses to Verizon, and pushed to bring federal spectrum to the table for the mass reassignment to wireless services. On the TV spectrum incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, McDowell suggested the commission consider a further NPRM and round of comments, something favored by broadcasters, but not so much by Chairman Genachowski. (See “Genachowski Suggests FCC Will Keep Moving Forward With Auction.”)

McDowell said he had no other immediate plans other than to take his family on vacation.

“I will be talking to the FCC’s chief ethics officer, Patrick J. Carney, to make sure that my departure is in full compliance with the letter and spirit of all of our ethics rules,” he said. “Beyond that, I have no plans other than to take my family on a much-needed vacation starting this weekend.”

He gave a shout-out to those who “literally handed me this job, twice,” including the late Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, President George W. Bush, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and President Barack Obama and other members of Congress.

“Thank you for placing such enormous trust in me,” he said.

The kudos immediately started flowing. Gordon Smith, chief of the National Association of Broadcasters called McDowell a “remarkably gifted public servant.”

“His good humor and grace have been matched only by his ardent support for fair media ownership rules and full-throated support for a vibrant First Amendment,” Smith said. “Commissioner McDowell will succeed in whatever path he chooses, and NAB wishes him well.”

From D.C. consumer advocacy lobby, Public Knowledge where McDowell’s former colleague Michael Copps serves on the board:

“Although we often disagreed, working with Commissioner McDowell was a pleasure. His willingness to hear opposing views, the intellectual rigor in his analysis, and his leadership at the WCIT made him someone we enjoyed working with. Commissioner McDowell deserves enormous credit for defending TV white spaces in its darkest hour and pushing back against House Republicans who saw no value in preserving unlicensed spectrum.”

The Wireless Innovation Alliance, a consortium created to support white spaces:

“Commissioner McDowell was an early and enthusiastic voice for the unlicensed economy, recognizing its potential as a real driver for innovation and economic growth. His understanding of important and growing role of unlicensed spectrum in our increasingly wireless world served as a beacon to Congress at critical points and helped protect these ‘innovation bands’ from misguided spectrum policy.”

From Consumer Electronics Association Chief Gary Shapiro:

“During his nearly seven years at the FCC, Commissioner McDowell has approached issues with the legal and business savvy that are required in our increasingly complex technological world. We wish Commissioner McDowell the very best as he moves on to new adventures.”

And from the CEA’s Julie Kearney:
“Commissioner McDowell drills down on issues and asks difficult questions, he points out the elephant in the room, and he makes all of us think and work harder to ensure a rational result. He also makes us laugh with his fantastic sense of humor.”

John Eggerton of B&C broke the story yesterday from the FCC commission meeting: “McDowell to Leave FCC.”