Meredith Attwell Baker, one of two Republicans on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, abruptly announced on Wednesday that she is leaving the agency on June 3 to join the Washington office of Comcast/NBC Universal.
The development shocked the tech policy community because Baker had been widely expected to be renominated for a second term. Under FCC rules, Baker, whose current term expires in late June, could have remained in her position until the end of next year’s session of Congress.
Baker may not lobby the FCC for two years but would not be prohibited from lobbying Congress, said an agency spokesman.
Baker’s decision to jump ship to Comcast already is drawing criticism because in January she voted—along with three of her colleagues—to approve the cable giant’s joint venture with NBC Universal.
“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,” Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the watchdog group Free Press, said in a statement.
"As recently as March, Commissioner Baker gave a speech lamenting that [the] review of the Comcast-NBC deal 'took too long.' What we didn't know then was that she was in such a rush to start picking out the drapes in her new corner office.”
Baker is departing at a critical juncture, as the FCC revs up its review of the proposed $39 billion merger of AT&T and T-Mobile and pursues a substantive overhaul of the $7 billion federal universal service fund, which subsidizes phone rates in low-income and rural areas. She has pulled out of an appearance next week in Dallas at a conference sponsored by the Telecommunications Industry Association, the group said.
Had she remained at the FCC, Baker’s nomination probably would have been paired with the selection of a successor to Democratic FCC regulator Michael Copps, who plans to leave later this year. The leading candidate for his spot is Jessica Rosenworcel, a top aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Baker’s departure could be a boon to the agency’s Democrats, who faced the prospect of a commission split along party lines if Copps were to leave before his replacement has been confirmed.
At Comcast, Baker’s new title will be senior vice president of government affairs, and she will report to Kyle McSlarrow, the former head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, who joined Comcast in April as president of the D.C. office. She also will work closely with Rick Cotton, NBC Universal’s executive VP and general counsel. Baker plans to start her new position in late June or early July, Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said.
Baker’s aides were not commenting publicly about the developments.
The regulator, who hails from Texas, ran the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, under President George W. Bush. She was backed by Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, for her nomination to the FCC.
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