WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 - FCC Commissioner, Meredith Baker, announced Wednesday that she will resign her post on June 3, after which she will begin her tenure as a lobbyist for NBCUniversal.
Baker's served as one of the five FCC commissioners for less than two years, after being sworn in by President Barack Obama in July, 2009. Previously, she spent five years during the second Bush administration at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, where she rose to the top spot in that agency.
Comcast touted the acquisition through a statement from the company's Washington, D.C. office president, Kyle McSlarrow.
“Commissioner Baker is one of the nation’s leading authorities on communications policy and we’re thrilled she’s agreed to head the government relations operations for NBCUniversal," said McSlarrow. "Meredith’s executive branch and business experience along with her exceptional relationships in Washington bring Comcast and NBCUniversal the perfect combination of skills.”
The Texas native's announcement comes scant months following her January vote to approve the merger of Comcast Corporation and NBC-Universal. That merger, which was laden with conditions to ensure its approval, drew criticisms that it put too much power over content and delivery in the hands of one company.
Baker, however, criticized the merger's process openly, saying on several occasions that it took the Commission far too long to approve and that the conditions were both beyond the scope of the FCC's authority and the result of duress leveraged by the regulating body.
“[Conditions] have become the cost of doing business with the Agency,” said Baker during a keynote address at an Institute for Policy Innovation event in March. “It devolves into how to get more out of the transaction.”
The move from one of the top posts at the FCC directly to one of the companies that agency not only regulates, but also on which it handed down a major vote earlier this year, has led critics to call out Baker and what they call a "revolving door" between employees of regulatory bodies and the companies they regulate.
“Less than four months after Commissioner Baker voted to approve Comcast’s takeover of NBC Universal, she’s reportedly departing the FCC to lobby for Comcast-NBC," said Craig Aaron, CEO of media watchdog Free Press, through a statement Wednesday. "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."
Former FCC commissioners have also assumed lobbying positions for private industry, including former Chairman Kevin Martin who left his post at the FCC in 2009 and currently lobbies for the law firm of Patton Boggs on telecommunications issues. Former Chairman Michael Powell, a Clinton appointee Chairman who left the Commission in 2005, became president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association last month.
Former senior attorney at the FCC and current Brooklyn Law School Professor, Jonathan Askin, noted Baker's impartiality as a commissioner with respect to her previous experience in private industry, but expressed disappointment in her move to NBC.
"I think it's generally inappropriate for government officials to immediately go and represent a commercial entity that is so vested in the regulatory structure," said Askin during an interview Wednesday. "I expected more from this administration and people appointed to positions in it."
Moreover, Askin questioned how the FCC staffers who worked closely with Baker and remain at the agency will be able to view matters relating to Comcast-NBCU objectively. The solution, he says, is to rely less heavily on the private sector in recruiting for government posts and more heavily on individuals from academic institutions.
Comcast stood by Baker's move, noting that the soon-to-be former commissioner's role at NBCUniversal will be firewalled from her previous work at the Commission.
"Commissioner Baker did everything in concert with FCC counsel," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Comcast, during an interview Wednesday. "This all happened several months after the [Comcast-NBCUniversal merger] review."
Fitzmaurice noted that talks with Baker did not begin until as recently as four to six weeks ago. Restrictions on her position will preclude her from working on any matters relating to the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger "forever," or lobbying political appointees for the duration of the Obama administration.
Baker may, however, contact and lobby representatives in Congress.
"I am privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the country at a time of critical transformation in the telecommunications industry," Baker said Wednesday through the statement announcing her resignation. "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."