Federal Communications commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker defended her decision to join Comcast NBC Universal just months after voting in favor of the company’s joint venture.
Under heavy criticism this week for her decision to leave the FCC to join Comcast, Baker issued a statement on Friday saying she was not approached by either Comcast or NBC Universal about a potential job during the review of their transaction.
Baker stood out among the FCC’s five commissioners for criticizing the merger review process for taking too long. She said the agency attached too many conditions to the deal. Among them, she opposed holding Comcast accountable to Internet access rules and the sharing of content with new online distributors such as Netflix and YouTube. She said those Internet television platforms were too new and that the market for online video was competitive and still forming.
The deal was approved in January by the FCC and Justice Department, forming a media behemoth that controls a bevy of television and movie assets along with the largest number of U.S. home Internet and cable subscriptions.
Consumer advocacy groups, some lawmakers and smaller media and cable companies fiercely opposed the deal. They argued that too much control over the media and communications industry would fall into the hands of one company.
“Not once in my entire tenure as a Commissioner had anyone at Comcast or NBC Universal approached me about potential employment,” Baker said in a statement. She said the “opportunity became available in mid-April,” at which point she sought advice from the FCC’s general counsel and recused herself from any issues involving Comcast and NBC Universal.
Baker was not at the FCC’s monthly meeting on Thursday.
Under the ethics pledge enacted by President Obama, Baker cannot lobby the FCC for two years, but she can lobby Congress.
The New York Times wrote in an editorial Friday that the revolving door between government officials and the industries they regulate has been too frequent.
“Ms. Baker’s swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans’ cynicism about their government,” the editorial said. “The fact that it is legal and that she is just one of many doesn’t make it better.”
Baker will join Comcast in June as senior vice president of its Washington office, working under newly hired Kyle McSlarrow, the former president of cable trade group National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
That group, NCTA, has hired former FCC chairman Michael Powell as its new president to replace McSlarrow.
Baker won’t be able to directly lobby the FCC, but she holds much influence and knowledge that can help Comcast in its regulatory agenda.