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FCC

Baker to Leave FCC to Lobby for NBCUniversal

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.

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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.”

FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker

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.”

 

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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