Republican FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker will leave her position with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June to serve as senior vice president of government affairs with Comcast-NBC.
“I am privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the country at a time of critical transformation in the telecommunications industry,” Baker stated in a release. “The continued deployment of our broadband infrastructures will meaningfully impact the lives of all Americans. I am happy to have played a small part in this success.”
The news follows a high-profile, $30 billion merger of Comcast and NBC earlier this year, which gave Comcast 51 percent of the stake in NBCUniversal (NBCU) and ownership over the majority of the network's channels, including CNBC and Bravo, as well as the Universal Pictures movie studio. Baker voted to approve the merger.
While reviewing the deal, Baker objected to the FCC's efforts to create conditions for the merger and called for reforms to the commission's review process, stating that it had taken too long and imposed excessive stipulations on Comcast-NBC.
The conditions included a few seven-year requirements for Comcast-NBC to maintain fair and competitive operations over the airwaves and online, show a minimum amount of local and children's programming and make high-speed Internet access available to 2.5 million low-income households.
The merger, which was approved 4-1, was criticized by media reform groups and many Democrats in Congress. After Baker's announcement that she would leave the FCC for Comcast-NBC, Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron stated, “The continuous revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy.”
“This is just the latest – but perhaps most blatant – example of so-called 'public servants' cashing in on companies they are supposed to be regulating,” Aaron said.
Baker will not be able to lobby anyone at the FCC for two years as part of the commission's ethics pledge, which she signed upon joining in July 2009. Baker is also prohibited from lobbying any executive branch agency – but she will be able to lobby members of Congress as soon as she takes up her new position.
Democrat FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who provided the single dissenting vote against the Comcast-NBC merger, said he was not expecting Baker's departure. Her announcement “caught me, like many others, by surprise,” Copps said. “I join my colleagues in wishing her well in the years ahead.”
Kyle McSlarrow, president of Comcast-NBC for Washington, DC, called Baker “one of the nation's leading authorities on communications policy” and said the company is “thrilled she's agreed to head the government relations operations for NBCUniversal. Meredith's executive branch and business experience along with her exceptional relationships in Washington bring Comcast and NBCUniversal the perfect combination of skills.”
Comcast denied that it offered Baker the job before the merger had gone through.