McDowell Headed for Second Term at FCC

In a widely expected move, President Obama has nominated Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to another term at the agency.

The new appointment is good for five years. McDowell has served on the FCC since May 2006, when then-President Bush chose him to fill former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s seat.

Obama said McDowell has shown especial leadership in several areas.

“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 proceedings,” the White House said in a June 2 press release.

McDowell also has sided with small cable operators, the ones that struggle – often in rural areas – to keep up with the rules applied to mega-companies such as Time Warner Cable (TWC). For that support, Matthew Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, lauded news of McDowell’s renomination.

“Commissioner McDowell has repeatedly demonstrated he understands that the cost of government regulation can harm small cable companies,” Polka said in a prepared statement. “We agreed with Commissioner McDowell when he voted to exempt small cable providers from rules that required cable carriage of many TV stations in both analog and digital formats for at least three years. ACA also supported Commissioner McDowell when he opposed deep cuts in cable leased access rates, a view later endorsed by the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

McDowell came to the FCC from competitive telecom association COMPTEL, where, as a senior executive, he worked as general counsel.

And his Republican label has not defined his votes, something that surely rubbed former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin the wrong way. For example, McDowell opposed Martin’s push to strictly regulate the cable industry. He also has agreed with CLECs that the forbearance process needs to be revamped. Further, McDowell recused himself from the controversial vote on the AT&T-BellSouth merger in December 2006, even though an FCC lawyer said McDowell’s participation would be legal. But McDowell disagreed because he had consented to an ethics code that called for him to abstain from voting on issues for which he lobbied as a COMPTEL lawyer.

That combination of support for ethics and competition, and an emphasis on free-market principles, has placed McDowell in a unique position at the FCC, one that his colleagues seem to welcome, especially now that Martin is out of the picture. (Martin was notoriously divisive and caused deep rifts at the FCC, problems Acting Chairman Michael Copps still is working to mend.)

Copps said he’s eager to continue working with McDowell.

“Since becoming Acting Chairman several months ago, I appreciate more than ever Rob’s collegiality, his openness, his creative intellect, and the deep sense of purpose he brings to his work,” Copps said on Tuesday. “I look forward to our continuing work together as we tackle the many tough communications issues confronting the commission and the country.”

It’s not known when McDowell will face his confirmation hearing. Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, has yet to be confirmed; observers say that’s because Senate Republicans must name their choice for the other GOP seat at the FCC. Meredith Atwell Baker, former acting head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, is believed to be that person but Senate leaders have yet to make an announcement.

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