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.
Both Baker and McDowell are fully up to speed on the gamut of media and telecom issues. Neither comes with a lot of incumbent industry baggage. 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 Clyburn, 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.