TR Daily ‘All Communities Have a Right to be Heard’
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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

‘All Communities Have a Right to be Heard’

Newly minted FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said today that “[e]very community has a stake in the future of communications in this country, and all have the right to be heard.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai swore in Mr. Starks today, and he attended his first FCC meeting as a Commissioner this afternoon.

The Senate confirmed Mr. Starks, who was previously an assistant chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, on Jan. 2 (TR Daily, Jan. 3), but the partial federal government shutdown forced the Commission to largely suspend operations the next day until President Trump signed legislation last week reopening shuttered agencies until Feb. 15 (TR Daily, Jan. 25).

Mr. Starks, a Democrat, is filling out a term that runs through June 30, 2022. The term is for a seat that was vacated last year by Mignon Clyburn (TR Daily, June 6, 2018).

In a written statement released after his swearing in, Mr. Starks said he is “deeply honored to serve as a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and I thank the President and the United States Senate for this exceptional privilege. As the last few weeks have affirmed, being a public servant is a calling to serve a mission bigger than yourself. Throughout my career, I have focused on protecting the most vulnerable and holding wrongdoers accountable.

“In my new role, I shall not only continue to pursue those goals, but also look forward to working with Congress, my fellow Commissioners, and the FCC’s outstanding staff to serve the public interest by encouraging innovation, competition, and security, as well as advancing policies to increase the quality, availability, and affordability of our country’s communications services,” Mr. Starks added. “Every community has a stake in the future of communications in this country, and all have the right to be heard. I will always be listening.”

In a statement at today’s FCC meeting, Mr. Starks echoed those remarks.

“Throughout my career, I’ve focused on protecting the most vulnerable and holding wrongdoers accountable. I’ll continue to pursue those goals here in my new job. I look forward to working with Congress, my fellow Commissioners, and the FCC’s outstanding staff to advance the public interest,” he said. “All communities have a right to be heard on communications policy, regardless of their resources. And for my part, I subscribe to the deep wisdom of [Supreme Court] Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg who said, ‘I'm a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.’ I will always be listening and learning.”

Mr. Starks also said that during the shutdown, he worked out of his previous office on the third floor and ran into many FCC employees who worked without pay. He thanked them as well as employees who were furloughed during the shutdown.

The newest Commissioner also announced his interim staff.

His acting chief of staff and acting legal adviser for wireless and international issues is Daudeline Meme. Previously, she was deputy chief in the International Bureau’s Telecommunications & Analysis Division. Before that, she was wireless, public safety, and international legal adviser to Ms. Clyburn.

Michael Scurato will be acting media and consumer protection legal adviser. Most recently, he was special counsel to the chief of the Enforcement Bureau and before that was media legal adviser to Ms. Clyburn.

Randy Clarke will be acting legal adviser for wireline and public safety issues. He previously was FCC counsel to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and before that was acting deputy chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau.

Mr. Starks said that Renee Coles will be his acting confidential assistant. Her previous FCC jobs include staff assistant to former Commissioner Michael Copps and a payroll and benefits specialist in the human resources department.

Natalie Martinez will be acting staff assistant. She has served as confidential assistant to five successive FCC general counsels.

During today’s meeting, which lasted fewer than 20 minutes and did not include the consideration of any items, Commissioners welcomed Mr. Starks.

Mr. Pai noted that the FCC regained its full complement of Commissioners today for the first time since last June.

“I’m not really sure what took you so long to make it through the confirmation process,” Commissioner Brendan Mr. Carr joked, drawing laughter. “I really don’t think it had a lot to do with you directly. I think it was probably someone else that ended up slowing things down.”

Mr. Carr’s renomination for another term, which was paired with Mr. Starks’ nomination, drew holds from senators.

“You should have shaved. It would have helped,” Mr. Pai told Mr. Carr, who has grown a straggly beard.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) lifted his hold after Mr. Pai made “a firm commitment” concerning the agency’s Mobility Fund Phase II program (TR Daily, Dec. 20, 2018), while Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) agreed to lift their holds following concerns about the FCC’s Rural Health Care universal service support mechanism.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the agency’s lone Democrat since Ms. Clyburn departed, said today that she and Mr. Starks “are bookends to this crew.”

“I am looking forward to being a little less lonely in these parts and very much looking forward to your take on the decisions before us,” she added.

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly also said he is pleased that Mr. Starks has finally been sworn in.

All of the Commissioners thanked FCC employees who were furloughed or who worked without getting paid during the shutdown, as well as contractors who work in the agency’s headquarters as janitors or in food service.

“I know this last month has been trying for everyone at the FCC,” Mr. Pai said. “For most of January, we have been living under a cloud of uncertainty.”

He said many employees he talked to said they were happy to be back at work, adding, “Working here is not just a job. It is a public service.”

The Chairman cited a number of activities that FCC employees handled during the shutdown, including helping address 176 events where law enforcement and national security personnel needed RF support, providing emergency support for a 911 call center and helping restore cellphone service in a national forest, investigating multiple spectrum interference complaints from the Federal Aviation Administration, and finishing up the 28 gigahertz band auction and planning for the upcoming 24 GHz band sale.

“These are just the best of the best,” Mr. Carr said of FCC employees. “They are the reason we get everything done, and the shutdown was tough times.”

“This shutdown was unfortunate and reckless,” complained Ms. Rosenworcel, who mentioned the impact on both FCC employees and contractors.

During a news conference after today’s meeting (see separate story), she said that such shutdowns could make it harder to recruit people to work in the government. “In every way, this shutdown was a slowdown,” Ms. Rosenworcel added.- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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