Watchdog wants pledge: No commissioners sidling over to AT&T


The proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile is set to come before the FCC for approval, and watchdog Free Press does not want a rerun of the Comcast/NBCU deal, which was followed by the hiring of ex-FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker by the merged entity.

To that end, it is asking that the four remaining commissioners pledge not to scurry over to AT&T, T-Mobile or the possibly merged entity immediately after the matter is handled.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron (pictured) made the following statement: “If you want to know why the American people are disillusioned and disgusted with Washington, look no further than FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker’s decision to leave the FCC to become a lobbyist for Comcast after rubber-stamping the media giant’s takeover of NBC. We can no longer ignore the ruinous effect on public policy caused by the revolving door between the FCC and the companies it’s supposed to be watching.”

He said that the public will have no confidence in the FCC’s ability to objectively review a merger if the same scenario is repeated after the AT&T/T-Mobile review.

Aaron concluded, “Of course, Baker is not the first government official to accept a paycheck from the industry she was once charged with regulating, and, sadly, she will not be the last. But we hope that through this pledge, the public can at least be confident that deliberations are based not on any future job prospects, but on the agency’s actual mandate: whether this deal is truly in the public interest.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Free Press notes that the Baker hiring shows exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington. With all due respect, we have to take issue with that statement on two counts.

First, people with areas of expertise tend to move within the business universe that has use of that expertise – it’s not just government and business. There is also cross-pollination between the government and the watchdog communities. Safeguards are in place, and you could argue that they should be strengthened, argue that they should be eliminated or argue something in between, such as they are OK as is. In the case of Baker, there is no reason to believe there was any quid pro quo involved in here approval of Comcast/NBCU.

Second, we wish that this was an example of why American citizens are disgusted with Washington, but really, it isn’t. People are vaguely disgusted with Washington almost all the time. We can’t remember the last time we saw a poll indicating positive sentiments about Congress, for example – in fact, the approval rate is routinely horrible – and these same citizens register their disgust time after time by sending the same incumbents back to Washington.

The upshot is that far from specifically disgusting typical Americans, we’d be shocked if Meredith Baker has 10% name recognition outside the Beltway, we doubt that very many know that Comcast and NBCU now are partially co-owned, and we further doubt that many of our fellow citizens have any idea what the FCC is and what it does.

In fact, if organizations like Free Press can be successful in generating some interest in FCC policy among the general population, we would tip our hats to them – it’s about time people started paying a little attention.