A telecom veteran, Baker stands firm on net neutrality, spectrum plan

Her top goal is to help the FCC come up with a strategic plan to outline the nation’s needs for airwaves over the next decade. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the country will soon face a dire shortage of airwaves. Baker, with her deep knowledge of spectrum policy, has a seat at the table in those discussions.

The FCC is considering taking airwaves away from broadcasters and government agencies to meet the demand for new wireless broadband services, which has sparked a heated lobbying battle.

“I can’t imagine taking airwaves away from broadcasters this soon after the digital transition,” said Baker, who was once a lobbyist for CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group. “But this is broadcasters’ chance to come to us and tell us what they need.”

On net neutrality, she doesn’t agree that government intervention is needed, but said she is glad the agency is gathering so much information on the issue.

“I realize we lost the election and we’re going to have rules,” she said. “But it’s important that we get the technical aspects right. We have to make sure what we do doesn’t damage the innovation and competition we have now.”

The concept of prioritizing Internet traffic is “tricky,” but she believes it’s necessary to take advantage of all that broadband can offer. “Can you really say that someone’s digital heart-rate reading being sent to a doctor shouldn’t have priority over someone downloading a YouTube video?”

In a speech at last month's State of the Net conference, she said there seems to be a broad consensus that networks need to be managed to control spam and prevent illegal content.

"Even though some advocates fear theoretical abuses, they concede that the Internet experience today wouldn't be what it is without network management by our network operators," she said.

And she believes no decisions should be made before the D.C. Circuit decides whether the FCC even has the authority to craft net neutrality rules in the first place. Judges last month raised serious questions about the FCC's legal jurisdiction when then-Chairman Kevin J. Martin ordered Comcast to stop throttling Internet traffic.

"I believe we should wait to see what the court says about our authority before pressing forward," she said.

Baker is also becoming a champion of child-safe technologies and parental tools to protect kids from inappropriate content on TV and the Internet. With four step-daughters, she sees how media is evolving to new platforms for younger generations, presenting challenges for parents.

“Kids today are watching TV on their computers and surfing the Web on their cellphones,” she said. “There are technologies out there, like filtering technologies, that can be used for this.”

Genachowski, who also has young children, said last month that the FCC may consider requiring electronics manufacturers to build in better safety features if the private sector does not “step up” to develop such technologies on its own.

“It’s also about awareness—we need more education for parents about how to protect their kids online,” she said. “I can use the lessons I learned during the digital television transition on that.”

She and Robert McDowell, the FCC’s other Republican commissioner, have worked together on telecom issues for years. Early in her career, Baker was a lobbyist for Covad Communications, a small telecom provider. McDowell was a top lobbyist for COMPTEL, the industry group that represented small firms, including Covad.

Despite her years in the telecom industry, she said the FCC is a completely different environment.

"There's a woman here who's been working on universal service issues for 18 years," she said. "Eighteen years! There's such a depth of knowledge here."