FCC commissioner Robert McDowell announced at the FCC's
public meeting on Wednesday that he will
be exiting the commission in "a few weeks."
McDowell is the longest-serving current commissioner, having
joined the commission in 2006 to fill the unexpired term of chairman Michael
Powell. His first term ended June 1, 2009, but he was renominated by President
Obama and confirmed for a new, five-year term.
McDowell suggested he has no new job lined up. ""I will be talking to the FCC's chief ethics officer to make sure that my departure will be in full compliance with not only the letter but the spirit of all of our ethics rules. And beyond that, I have absolutely no plans other than to take my family on a much-needed vacation," which begins the end of this week.
McDowell had been in the conversation for chairman if Mitt
Romney had won the White House.
His chief of staff, Angela Giancarlo, announced last month
she was leaving.
"Commissioner McDowell has been an exemplary
public servant," said David Cohen, executive VP, Comcast Corp. "His
wisdom, practicality and hard work all contribute to the widespread respect
that everyone has for him. Commissioner McDowell's tireless efforts to
promote a free and unregulated Internet, reform Universal Service and keep the
U.S. at the forefront of International telecommunications policy are just a few
of his many notable accomplishments. We wish him all the best and congratulate
him on his very successful seven year tenure at the FCC."
McDowell's exit will allow Republicans in Congress to pair
up a new nominee from each party if, as expected, FCC chairman Julius
Genachowski also exits the commission.
Technically the pick of FCC nominees is the president's to
make, but ever since Bill Clinton deferred to Republican leadership for names
to fill Republican seats, the custom is that top Senate Republicans -- in this
case Sens. Mitch McConnell, minority leader, and John Thune, ranking Commerce
Committee member (R-S.D.) -- get to make the call.
Among the names immediately surfacing as possible successors to McDowell: Neil Fried, senior telecommunications counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Ray Baum, former Oregon Public Utility Commission chairman and current top adviser to House Communications Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.); Michael O'Rielly, a staffer with Senate Republican John Cornyn (Tex.); and former Scripps Networks Chief Legal Officer A.B. Cruz, who is Latino and whose name also surfaced for the Republican seat eventually taken by Ajit Pai.
At the commission, McDowell has been a free market fan as
well as a voice of caution that some of the FCC's decisions could have trouble
passing muster in the courts. He has also been a consistent warning
voice about international efforts to undermine the multistakeholder model
of Internet governance.
In announcing its intention to re-nominate McDowell in 2009,
the White House pointed to broadband issues and advancement of unlicensed
wireless devices in the TV spectrum space among its reasons for supporting
The White House said that McDowell had "collaborated
with his fellow commissioners to develop and establish American communications
policy covering the wireless, media, and Internet industries, in addition to
international policy matters. Among other matters, he has worked to create
rules governing wireless auctions; establish a framework for unlicensed use of
TV 'white spaces' spectrum; develop incentives to encourage the development of
new broadband technologies; review public interest benefits as part of the
approval process of proposed corporate mergers; and adjudicate enforcement
He has also consistently called for deregulating broadcast
ownership, and clearing the regulatory underbrush in general, given the changes
in the marketplace.
He was a strong opponent of the so-called fairness doctrine,
FCC eventually struck from the books after McDowell pointed out that it
remained in the rulebook. Although the FCC had not enforced the doctrine, which
required broadcasters to affirmatively seek out opposing viewpoints on
controversial issues, in almost a quarter century, it continued to cast a
shadow over the agency from the viewpoint of many Republicans, broadcasters
(particularly religious broadcasters) and others concerned about the speech
regulation implications of its return.