Even before Meredith Attwell Baker was able to make it out the door, there has already been a 2-2 tie at the FCC.
Baker, who is exiting as FCC Commissioner ASAP to join NBCU as a Washington government affairs executive, bowed out of Friday's House Communications Subcommittee hearing on FCC reform, which opened the door for the deadlock on the issue, ironically, on whether a majority of commissioners, and not just the chairman, should be able to propose or delete agenda items.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Democratic colleague Mignon Clyburn did not support the proposal, one of a raft offered up for discussion by Republicans. Genachowski pointed out that most FCC decisions--95% or so--are unanimous anyway, that with the exception of one instance it was not an issue, and that there needed to be a chief executive.
"I think nothing is broken, 95% of our decisions are unanimous, we world collaboratively, I can't imagine a situation where there would be a problem and there is only one anomaly that I am aware of."
Clyburn said she felt her voice was already being heard.
Democrat Michael Copps and Republican Robert McDowell were on the other side. "Three commissioners ought to have the ability to put an item on the agenda, take an item off the agenda and edit the agenda." McDowell said he supported it when he was in the majority and still supports it now that he is not.
McDowell was around for the anomaly. He pointed to 2007, when four of the five commissioners were agreed on some intercarrier compensation fixes but the chairman--Republican Kevin Martin--would not move on an item.
The commissioners weighed in on a number of the Republican's suggestions for possible reforms, with McDowell alone in suggesting the adoption of legislative language to ensure that only transaction-specific conditions be placed on mergers, like the Comcast/NBCU deal, which he has said contained "voluntary" conditions meant to appease the commission.
Copps said it would be tough to draw bright lines between deal-specific and more broadly applicable conditions, while Genachowski pointed out that companies, recognizing the public interest standard for FCC review, will often offer up conditions to make the deal more in that public interest, some of which the FCC needs to make binding.
To some degree, all agreed that the FCC might be able to use more shot clocks for decision-making, though the Democrats said only so long as there was flexibility rather than letting the clock rule the process. McDowell said he would support it, with flexibility, so long as that flexibility could not be abused. The Duke grad also favored it for a more esoteric reason. "The shot clock helped break the UNC-Chapel Hill monopoly on basketball, so I am all for that." His reference was to UNC's penchant under coach Dean Smith in the pre-shot clock days of college basketball to go into the "four corners" stall offense to run out the clock on a lead.
The tone of the hearing was not contentious, with Republicans and Democrats praising the commissioners and Genachowski's reform efforts.
Seeming to sense it could be one of Copps' final appearances--his term was up last December and he will be exiting by year's end--Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said that if he ruled the world, Copps' term would have had no expiration date, calling him one of the best commissioners ever.