McDowell Exit Draws (Mostly) Praise for His Tenure
Hailed as thoughtful intellectual, supporter of media ownership reform; Free Press takes a little edge off accolades, 'congratulating' him on decision to leave
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/20/2013 1:28:37 PM
"We extend our gratitude to commissioner McDowell for his excellent service to the Federal Communications Commission and American public," said National Cable and Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell. McDowell was named to the commission in 2006 to fill the unexpired term of then chairman Powell, and then was renominated to a full, five-year term in June 2009. "During his time at the FCC, commissioner McDowell has been a thoughtful and fair public servant who has always promoted the ideal that competitive marketplaces are best suited to meet consumer demand for vital communication services," said Powell.
"Robert McDowell has been a remarkably gifted public servant during his seven-year tenure at the FCC," said National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith. "His good humor and grace have been matched only by his ardent support for fair media ownership rules and full-throated support for a vibrant First Amendment. Commissioner McDowell will succeed in whatever path he chooses...."
Coincidentally, a Smith cousin, Sen. Tom Udall, spoke at the FCC meeting Wednesday at which McDowell eventually revealed his exit strategy.
"I've been around the FCC for 40 years and have never seen anyone render greater public service," said Preston Padden, executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition.
AT&T senior VP Jim Cicconi called McDowell a "true leader, focused on promoting the interests of consumers as well as innovation and economic growth. His impressive knowledge of communications law and regulations has been a major asset to the Commission in so many of the important and complex issues it has tackled. Moreover, commissioner McDowell has used that knowledge to challenge his own agency to match the dramatic innovations of technology with a more innovative approach to how the FCC regulates. He was also the first to sound the alarm about international efforts to regulate the Internet, and has been a consistent voice urging similar restraint by the FCC itself. In short, Commissioner McDowell has made a positive difference during his time in office, which is perhaps the highest praise one can give to any public servant."
But it was not simply deregulatory-minded industry types singing McDowell's praises, appropriate since one of his oft-repeated points at public meetings has been the relative commity of the commission and its 90%-plus record of unanimous votes.
"Although we often disagreed, working with commissioner McDowell was a pleasure," said Public Knowledge in a statement. "His willingness to hear opposing views, the intellectual rigor in his analysis, and his leadership at the WCIT made him someone we enjoyed working with. Commissioner McDowell deserves enormous credit for defending TV white spaces in its darkest hour and pushing back against House Republicans who saw no value in preserving unlicensed spectrum."
Free Press, another group with opposing views, did not join the choir, suggesting they were not unhappy to see him go.
"We congratulate commissioner McDowell on his decision to leave the FCC," said Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron. "As he considers his next move, we hope he will reject the revolving door and resist becoming another FCC leader who exploits his public service to cash in at the companies he was supposed to regulate." That appeared to be a reference to the exit of former FCC Republican commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, who left to join Comcast, a move Free Press pilloried.
McDowell said at the meeting that he would "be talking to the FCC's chief ethics officer to make sure that my departure will be in full compliance with not only the ethics but the spirit of all of our ethics rules."
"We urge the president to nominate a Republican successor who is not simply another cheerleader for the biggest businesses and media monopolists, but who recognizes the free market cannot work if companies are allowed to amass and abuse market power," said Aaron.
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