Influential FCC adviser Colin Crowell prepares to join the industry he oversaw

Colin Crowell:
Colin Crowell: "I feel now is the right time for a change." (Cecilia Kang - Washington Post)
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By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Colin Crowell's fingerprints are all over some of the biggest technology and telecommunications statutes of the last two decades. He's one of the most influential tech policy operatives you've never heard of.

Such is the playbook of Washington, where staff on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies act as powerful agents crafting laws and regulations behind the scenes -- a place where Crowell has happily sat watching the epic transformation of communications law for the Internet age.

After serving as senior adviser to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and 20 years as a lead staffer for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the former chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, Crowell, 44, is preparing to join the ranks of the industry he has helped oversee.

The impending transition is another big part of the Washington playbook: the revolving door, in which some Hill staffers and lawmakers leave public service for the private sector -- sometimes eventually returning to the Hill or an administration.

"Ed Markey, who is a legislative giant in the telecom world, gave me a front-row seat 20 years ago to the changes that would unfold in technology and to the laws that needed updating, and that was a great gift," Crowell said. "I feel now is the right time for a change, a chance for me to do something new and different."

Several developments have converged to make it the right time, Crowell said. Markey is no longer committee chairman and Washington's partisan environment has become more challenging, he said.

Still, some who know Crowell will watch the transition with interest. "Colin has always been committed to taking on communications colossi to provide competition that protected consumers," said Markey, who along with many in the FCC call his former staffer a walking encyclopedia on the arcane details of tech and telecom statutes.

The FCC said Crowell would leave in June, after advising chairman Julius Genachowski on the rollout of a plan to significantly expand high-speed Internet connections across the nation and a proposed rule to open Internet networks to all Web sites and applications.

He had intended to stay until the broadband plan was announced last March, the agency said. He stayed a few months longer to address an unexpected court decision that challenged the agency's ability to regulate a broadband service network. Crowell won't look for a job until he leaves the FCC.

He and Markey put the broadband plan into the Recovery Act, and charged the FCC with figuring out how to execute it -- within a year. Crowell moved to the FCC with Genachowski to help make it happen.

Within the Beltway's clubby tech policy circles, Crowell has been a fixture whom lobbyists for companies such as Google, AT&T and Comcast have tried to influence. Corporations have made knowing him a priority, because for years his onetime boss took on industry giants, often siding with smaller competitors.

Crowell helped Markey write the Telecom Act of 1996 -- which pitted satellite providers against their cable counterparts and spawned thousands of competitors among phone, video and Internet service providers.

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