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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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But the landscape has changed, and many areas of the country offer only one or two choices for broadband Internet service providers.

Four years ago, Crowell helped Markey write a net neutrality bill that would force carriers to provide equal access to any Web pages and applications. That bill hasn't moved but Crowell is working on a similar proposal at the FCC, along with a controversial proposal to redefine the largely unregulated broadband industry as a telecommunications service. Doing so would clear the way for net neutrality rules.

It could be a bumpy transition as Crowell shifts roles from public servant -- and Markey's wingman -- to the private sector. Besides his short FCC stint, and two years immediately after college spent as a Jesuit volunteer in Peru, working for Markey is the only job Crowell has had. And until recently, he was not known for expressing interest in the private sector.

"The hardest thing about joining the private sector is being a supplicant, after years and years of people coming to you for advice," said Larry Irving, vice president of global government affairs for Hewlett-Packard, who worked alongside Crowell in Markey's office and later became the assistant secretary for commerce. Markey's office has also produced several leaders on K Street and in the federal government. Gerry Waldron, a partner at Covington & Burling, Gerry Salemme, a telecom venture capitalist, and Larry Sidman, former president of the Association of Public Television Stations, were all staffers in the 1980s and '90s.

Crowell stayed, building a career as a deal broker, and helping, for example, to pass the Telecom Act under a Republican majority.

David Cavicke, the Republican chief of staff on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been on the opposite side of Crowell on issues. "We may not agree on everything, but because he is so willing to provide advice and counsel and understands the nuances of the issues so well, he's been a leading figure in the middle of developing compromise," Cavicke said of Crowell.

But tech policy issues have become more partisan, Crowell said. "In the long term, no serious tech policy can succeed with a highly charged partisan strategy," he said. "At their core, high-tech issues are more regional in nature or are simply too complex to split conveniently down a party divide."


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