Robert McDowell, one of the two Republican FCC commissioners, said he will resign from his post in the next few weeks, ending a tenure of nearly seven years at the commission. He was first appointed in 2006 and was reappointed in 2009.
McDowell made the announcement Wednesday at the FCC's open monthly meeting. He did not immediately indicate what he will do next but said he plans to take a vacation with his family. "To paraphrase Monty Python, I'm not dead yet," he said at the meeting.
"Again, this is not a time for farewells, I'm just announcing my plans to step down sometime soon," he said in a statement distributed later. "So what am I doing next? I will be talking to the FCC's Chief Ethics Officer, Patrick J. Carney, to make sure that my departure is in full compliance with the letter and spirit of all of our ethics rules. Beyond that, I have no plans other than to take my family on a much-needed vacation starting this weekend."
Rumors have swirled that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will also step down when his term ends this summer, but he has not indicated that he plans to leave anytime soon. Genachowski declined to address his own future, according to Politico.
"Today is Rob's day," he said. "Landmark reforms like the Universal Service Fund wouldn't have happened without him. There's no news to report there. I have nothing to add."
McDowell has been a reliable defender of the wireless and telecom industries during his tenure and has often pushed for less regulation, especially of the wireless market. He was a vociferous opponent of the FCC's plan to codify net neutrality rules for wireless and wired networks (it passed on a 3-2 vote along party lines). He also opposed the FCC's efforts to impose mandatory data roaming for carriers subject to commercially reasonable" terms and conditions. A federal appeals court upheld the data FCC's rules in December, while the same court is hearing a challenge to the net neutrality rules.
The departing FCC commissioner drew praise from both traditional allies and those he has sparred with over the years. "Although we often disagreed, working with Commissioner McDowell was a pleasure," public interest group Public Knowledge said in a statement. "His willingness to hear opposing views, the intellectual rigor in his analysis and his leadership at the WCIT made him someone we enjoyed working with. Commissioner McDowell deserves enormous credit for defending TV white spaces in its darkest hour and pushing back against House Republicans who saw no value in preserving unlicensed spectrum."
Yet not everyone was full of praise. "We congratulate Commissioner McDowell on his decision to leave the FCC," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. "As he considers his next move, we hope he will reject the revolving door and resist becoming another FCC leader who exploits his public service to cash in at the companies he was supposed to regulate." Aaron was likely referring to the fact that Republican FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker left the FCC in 2011 to become Comcast's senior vice president of government affairs.
Craig Silliman, Verizon Communications' (NYSE:VZ) senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, praised McDowell as someone who has kept "the global Internet free from over-regulation" and as a champion of market-based approaches. "His tenure has been defined by his insistence that the FCC base its decisions on sound policies that are well-grounded in the law," Silliman said in a statement. "McDowell's vision and judgment have been invaluable during a remarkable period of transformation, innovation and investment."
Likewise, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's (NYSE:T) senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement that McDowell has challenged "his own agency to match the dramatic innovations of technology with a more innovative approach to how the FCC regulates. He was also the first to sound the alarm about international efforts to regulate the Internet and has been a consistent voice urging similar restraint by the FCC itself."
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