In Baker, CTIA Gets a Spectrum Czar—and at a Crucial Time

Nearly six months after launching a nationwide executive search to find a replacement for its retiring president and CEO, Steve Largent, CTIA-The Wireless Association finally has a new leader. And it didn’t have to look too far, either.

Meredith Attwell Baker, the former Republican Federal Communications Commissioner and acting administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will take over as president and CEO of CTIA on June 2, the association announced in a news release.

In Baker, CTIA is getting an influential Washington insider and lobbyist who has a deep understanding of spectrum policy—at a time when both the FCC and the NTIA are carrying out an ambitious Obama administration plan to double the country’s supply of airwaves for use in high-speed wireless Internet service by 2020. For starters, later this year the FCC will auction off the 2155-2180 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands, also known as the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services)-3 band, and in mid-2015 the agency will conduct the much-anticipated incentive auctions that were authorized as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (Pub. L. No. 112-96). The NTIA, meanwhile, will continue to be busy with the work of making better use of spectrum now controlled by federal agencies.

Though Baker was among a short list of candidates whose names were often mentioned to become CTIA president and CEO, she is believed to the only one who served in leadership positions at both the FCC and NTIA, the two agencies that manage the nation's spectrum use.

In a statement accompanying the news release, Baker wasted no time in outlining three spectrum policy priorities. Specifically, she said she will “place more emphasis on technical and engineering expertise related to spectrum and wireless technologies; 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.”

On the latter issue, Baker’s resume boasts at least one auspicious record: While at the NTIA, in March 2008, the agency produced a report, Spectrum Management for the 21st Century-The President's Spectrum Policy Initiative: Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan, which was characterized at the time as the first comprehensive look at federal government agencies’ use of spectrum.

In a press briefing to unveil the report’s findings, Baker had explained that the document was written to support NTIA’s goal of changing the current spectrum management system into a new model. “And this new and evolving spectrum management system will enable more efficient and effective use of this vital resource, and where feasible and appropriate, increasingly allow dynamic access to spectrum,” she said in 2008.

Wireless vs. Wi-Fi.

Baker joins CTIA after serving for more than two years as senior vice president of government affairs for Comcast-NBCUniversal in Washington, D.C.

Her experience as a top lobbyist and political strategist for the nation's largest provider of cable TV service and Internet access may actually work to her advantage in her new role.

Over the past several years, Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications, Bright House Networks, and Cablevision Systems Corp. have activated more than 200,000 Wi-Fi hotspots within their service footprints along the Eastern Seaboard, West Coast, and major cities in the Midwest, which, when taken together, form an unparalleled resource for competing against the likes of CTIA members Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. in the market for wireless communications services. In March, the FCC voted to free up some 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.1 gigahertz band for new Wi-Fi uses, widely seen as a boon to the cable industry's wireless ambitions.

“Meredith Attwell Baker is an inspired choice to lead CTIA,” Jonathan Adelstein, the president Chief Executive Officer of PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association and also a former FCC commissioner, said in a statement April 23. “She has the industry knowledge, smarts, discipline and strategic sense to lead the association in a period of industry growth and change.”

Role Reversal.

In addition to her FCC and NTIA experience and her brief stint at Comcast, Baker was also CTIA’s director of congressional affairs from 1998 to 2000. Tom Wheeler, the current chairman of the FCC, served as president and CEO of CTIA from 1992 to 2004.

Largent, who announced his retirement last October, has served as CTIA’s president and CEO since then.