FCC commissioner retires, reflects

WASHINGTON - Michael Copps, who stepped down Jan. 1 after serving 10 years on the Federal Communications Commission - including a brief stint as the interim FCC chair - can point to many areas where the FCC made positive headway and warded off proposals he considered ill-advised.

But perhaps what pleased Copps most was that "we turned the FCC into a grass-roots organization. We have a couple hundred people traveling the country, people crisscrossing to local groups, state groups" on communications issues.

"We were just trying to open the commission more to input for the public at large, open it to stakeholders who don't have lobbyists working the corridors of the FCC and put(ting) together nice gift-wrapped packages for us."

"I've tried to get the FCC out on the road so we could learn what was on the mind of the American people," said Copps, a member of St. Mary Parish in Alexandria, in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from his Virginia home. "I'm going to try to keep pushing on that" with the new FCC members, he added, "protecting American consumers and advancing the public interest."

Copps said he can't claim total victory on a host of issues, but that traction got started during his tenure, including taking into account the needs of "minorities, the disability community - who have to live with the consequences of our decision just as much as anybody else does. ... But this is an era where corporations and big entities have lots of influence in government at all levels."

One partial victory, according to Copps, is the adoption of a national broadband strategy to give more people access to the Internet via broadband technology.

"For eight years I was talking about the need for a broadband strategy. All we got back was 'the market will do it, the market will take care of that.'" Rather, he noted, "when we make progress as a country, we do it because we're all together - the public sector, the private sector."

He also pointed to twice forming FCC majorities to stop greater consolidation of media ownership.

One issue he said he'd like to see kept in the forefront is "the future of the media, the future of journalism, the future of news. ... That issue that to me is the most important one the country faces right now. To have the depth and breadth of info that are needed to make important decisions," he added. "You can't make them on the basis of infotainment. You can't make it look like you have resource-rich investigative journalism if you don't have reporters covering all the beats."

A Democrat, Copps said he saw advantages in being part of the two-member minority on the FCC during Republican administrations, as well as being on the three-member majority when a Democrat was in the White House.

"Being a commissioner of the FCC is one of the best jobs in the U.S. government," Copps said. "You're dealing with the latest issues, the latest technologies. You meet everybody in the world who's a player in that, and you have some independence in decision-making. ... That independence is rare. But I think you need an agency like that that's independent. We don't report to ministers or presidents or whatever. We can make our own judgments; we can develop our own expertise."

Copps said he's planning on taking it relatively easy for a few months now that he's off the FCC. "I'm not waiting at the door for an offer," he said. "I've got a couple of speeches coming up, trying to take a deep breath here, get organized - try to live a quieter life for the next few weeks. You'll continue to hear from me, particularly at media issues and events. And about the future or the Internet. There's plenty of talk about that. I want to keep involved."

That stance differs from that of one of his fellow ex-commissioners, Meredith Attwell Baker, who was part of an FCC majority last January to approve the merger between cable giant Comcast and broadcast network NBC, then left the FCC in June to take a job as senior vice president of Comcast's Washington office.

Copps said he considers himself retired. "I am retired from doing the regular job, the 10- or 12-hour day," he told CNS, adding he'd rather have "a regular job in the private sector. I want to find the forums to keep doing that. I think there are many, many avenues to consider." He said one piece of advice he was given upon leaving the FCC was "don't get yourself overwhelmed at the beginning."

"I'm going to take the next month or two or three and see what appeals most. Trying something out and see what works for me and for my family."

But now that he's a communications civilian, Copps has to deal with the complexities of the multimedia society the same as anyone else.

"I got this new phone. I thought it would be a quick changeover from the old one. I spent five, six hours on the phone with a telephone company - whose name I will not mention - just on how to merge the Gmail account with the phone with the Gmail account on my computer."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970