Congress looks into FCC commissioner's move to Comcast

Chairman of the House oversight committee wants more information from the FCC about how Meredith Attwell Baker got her new job lobbying for Comcast just months after the agency approved the merger with NBC Universal.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

The chairman of the House oversight committee wants more information from the Federal Communications Commission about how commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker got her new job lobbying for Comcast, The Wall Street Journal reported late last week.

FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker FCC

Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) sent a letter on May 18 asking FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski several questions about Baker's departure. Baker announced earlier this month that she was leaving the FCC to work for Comcast. The timing of her departure has caused an uproar among some consumer groups. The FCC approved the controversial merger between Comcast and NBC Universal in January. Baker was one of four commissioners who approved the deal, which was worth $12.75 billion.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the letter that Issa sent to the FCC noted that it didn't appear that Baker had violated any laws or ethics rules. But he said it was important for the public to "trust the integrity of the process." And he asked for a briefing with the FCC on the matter.

The FCC declined to comment. But the Journal reported that a spokesperson for Baker said that the commissioner was happy to have the opportunity to further explain her decision.

In her new role with Comcast, Baker is prohibited from lobbying FCC officials directly for the remainder of President Obama's administration. But she will be able to lobby lawmakers and their staff as soon as she starts her new job.

Also last week, a Comcast official informed a Seattle nonprofit that it would not be funding its Reel Grrls summer program because of a critical message the group shared via Twitter regarding Baker's new job at Comcast. Comcast quickly back-pedaled once the situation was made public and it reinstated the group's funding.

But late Friday, the group, which offers teenage girls programs centered on filmmaking, issued a statement stating it would dissolve its partnership with Comcast and seek funding elsewhere. Instead, the group plans to redesign its summer camp to focus on free press issues.

"Given the serious questions Comcast's initial decision to take punitive measures on our organization raised about the ability of corporations to stifle public discussion, we have decided to redesign our summer camp to focus on developing films about free press issues," the group said in its statement.

"While we are heartened that Comcast has apologized for its actions, we believe this incident underscores the bigger problems associated with the overwhelming concentration of power that the Comcast/NBC merger and the resulting hire of Baker represent," the group added. "It was only after a very public debate about Comcast's punitive actions toward our organization that Comcast was motivated to change its position. Unfortunately, it is exactly this type of public debate that can be squelched by mergers that threaten to raise the price for access to information, limit consumers choices in entertainment and news and give large media corporations the power to decide which opinions will see the light of day."