Republicans Finally Make FCC Picks. McDowell and Baker to Take R Slots. Now Can The Senate Please Get Everyone Confirmed So We Can Get To Work.

At long last, it looks like the Senate Republicans got their act together enough to settle on two FCC candidates: Current Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and former NTIA Administrator Meredith Atwell Baker. While I expect a fair number of policy fights, I also expect to see this group weighing matters fairly and searching for common ground.

I’m hopeful this can clear the Senate before July 4 recess. The FCC has a pretty big agenda, starting with the National Broadband Plan (yes, February 2009 may seem far away, but not for this), continuing through finishing up on white spaces and wireless microphones, FCC Reform, ownership, network neutrality, etc., etc. Be nice if the Senate also confirmed Larry Strickling for NTIA. Finally, if we really want to get things moving, the Senate Agriculture Committee should schedule a hearing for Adelstein’s appointment to head up the Rural Utility Service now (they don’t have to wait for him to be off the FCC to have a hearing on his nomination to RUS) so he can be confirmed in a group with everyone else.

A bit more on Baker and McDowell below . . .

While I have certainly had my disagreements with both Baker and McDowell in the past (particularly on network neutrality), I’m overall pleased with the appointments — and not merely because it breaks the logjam that has kept the FCC in screen saver mode since January. Critically, neither comes with a lot of incumbent industry baggage, which should keep the Commission focused on issues and evidence rather than on efforts to protect a favored industry. Prior to joining the FCC, McDowell worked for Comptel representing competing telephone companies. Baker has been in government since 2004, and before that did stints at Covad and CTIA. With a host of competition related issues coming up — everything from details of special access to wireless roaming to the role of competition in the National Broad Plan — having Republicans who represented new entrants is definitely helpful.

Mind you, as Bush appointees, both Baker and McDowell have shown a passionate commitment to deregulation and free market fundamentalism with which I often disagree. But they have also shown a willingness to engage in real discussion around issues and look at the underlying evidence. Perhaps more importantly, neither Atwell nor McDowell has shown any interest in partisan obstructionism for its own sake. Both have a demonstrated desire to get things done, and a recognition that the policy process involves giving everyone a hearing weighing the arguments on the merits.

So I think this will be an FCC with a pragmatic focus, with debates driven by differences in philosophy rather than by a desire to protect a particular favored industry. Given Baker’s background at NTIA, coupled with what we have already seen from McDowell, I expect the new FCC will find it easiest to tackle spectrum reform, data collection, and FCC process reform. These are areas where all the Commissioners (with the possible exception of Clyburne, who as a state PSC commissioner never addressed spectrum) have experience and interest reaching certain common goals. On the other hand, I still expect to see 3-2 votes around network neutrality and rules designed to promote diversity of views in the media — areas where Baker and McDowell may support the goals but not necessarily support regulatory intervention.

So I’m glad the Senate Republicans finally made their choices, and looking forward to working with a fully functioning FCC. Hopefully, the Senate can get everyone confirmed before the July 4 recess. Hopefully they will also confirm Larry Strickling, and have the Senate Agriculture Committee hold a hearing for Adelstein to take over at RUS. Then we could finally get out of screen saver mode and start getting some actual policy work done.

Stay tuned . . . .

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