Ex-FCC commissioner to head CTIA in latest Washington shuffle

Meredith Attwell Baker, a onetime Obama appointee, will now run the mobile industry group

Completing the circle of Beltway life, the mobile industry group CTIA has named a former member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission as its president and CEO.

Meredith Attwell Baker, who was appointed to the commission in 2009 by President Barack Obama and served for two years, will take over CTIA in June. She will succeed Steve Largent, a former congressman who is retiring after leading CTIA, the main lobbying organization for U.S. mobile operators, since 2003.

Wednesday's announcement came less than a year after a former CTIA chief and cable industry lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, was nominated as chairman of the FCC. That appointment was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, albeit after about five months of political wrangling that was unrelated to Wheeler's former affiliations.

The U.S. capital, surrounded by its famous ring road called the Beltway, is often criticized as an incestuous world of revolving doors between industries and the agencies that are charged with regulating them. Baker and Wheeler are not the first communications luminaries to move between government and industry groups. A former FCC chairman, Michael Powell, now heads the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Julius Genachowski, who preceded Wheeler at the FCC, previously had been an executive at media and broadcasting conglomerate IAC.

More than 80 percent of FCC commissioners since 1980 have gone on to work for companies or groups in the industries they used to regulate, according to Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, a public-interest advocacy group on media and technology.

As much as Wheeler has been linked to industry, it's too soon to say which direction he'll take on critical issues, Karr said. A key measure will come in the next few days as Wheeler is expected to propose a way for the FCC to ensure an open Internet, which he has advocated. Carriers fought the agency's previous position on the net neutrality issue and won in a federal appeals court in January.

But over the years, the revolving door between regulator and regulated has led to agencies more beholden to monied interests than to the public, according to Karr.

"Washington is a billion-dollar influence industry, and everybody who's there, working in the public or the private sector, knows how that game is played," Karr said.

Baker, 45, is not new to CTIA. She was a director of congressional affairs there from 1998 to 2000 and later served in the Commerce Department, including as acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which advises the president on communications. Most recently, Baker was senior vice president of government affairs for Comcast-NBCUniversal.

At CTIA, she's likely to maintain the group's focus on making more wireless spectrum available for commercial mobile services. Among the goals outlined in a press release on her appointment are to "work with commercial and government users to produce a viable five-year plan for the future of spectrum usage" and "begin to regularly assess how efficiently spectrum is being used."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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