Going home at the FCC

Jane Mago returned to familiar territory when she was named FCC acting general counsel in January. Her first job out of law school was on the agency's legal team. "This is a coming home for me. I've spent the majority of my career in the general counsel's office," says Mago, whom agency Chairman Michael Powell named to the post permanently on May 14.

After getting her feet wet in a general counsel's honors program for recent law school graduates in 1978, Mago's first permanent assignment was in the Common Carrier Bureau. She then returned to the general counsel's office as a litigator after a year and a half.

Between other stints in the this office, Mago also served as adviser to former commissioners Rachelle Chong and Anne Jones and as a staffer in the old private radio bureau. Her latest stretch before returning to head the office was as Powell's mass-media and cable adviser from November 1997 until December 1999, when she was named deputy chief of the new Enforcement Bureau. Mago jokes, "They keep taking me back, like a bad penny."

With her varied duties a plus, her experience as a litigator convinced Powell that he should send her back to run her original haunt. Today, her office faces a load of high-profile cases, and, on Mago's watch, federal judges are likely to hand down rulings that will reshape long-standing policy on telecommunications mergers, broadcast ownership and cable Internet service.

"Jane Mago is a lawyer's lawyer who provides insightful, objective analysis on all issues she takes up," Powell says. "She has been a trusted legal adviser, both when she was on my personal staff and in her subsequent work in the Enforcement Bureau and as general counsel."

Although Mago doesn't plan to tackle courtroom duties, she says recent visits to watch the team in action have made her a little wistful for the days when she argued cases.

Her first big case, known as "Computer 2," was the second of three FCC legal battles defending rules for advanced telecommunications services. Set before the AT&T break-up, the regulations were created in anticipation of today's broadband revolution and were intended to differentiate between basic telcom services and high-speed data, or "enhanced," services.

Many of the decisions FCC lawyers struggle with today—whether cable companies must provide rival carriers telephone-style open access to their broadband networks, for instance—are just logical progressions of those three cases. "That's one of the things that has amazed me," she says. "Many of the issues are just revised versions of what we did in my early days. They've just become more complex."

Mago says one of her tasks assigned by Powell is to burnish the agency's reputation among federal judges, which has been tarnished by high-profile courtroom losses on minority recruiting, cable-ownership caps and right-of-reply rules for broadcasters. "One of his concerns is that we work on the quality of commission decisions that may go to court," she says. "We're trying to make sure the decisions are solid, well-founded and adhere strictly to the law."

Mago joined the FCC after earning her law degree and a graduate degree in communications from the State University of New York in Buffalo, her hometown. The agency, she thought, would be the ideal place to capitalize on both degrees. She initially planned to stay only five years, but, after getting married and starting a family, she decided government work provided the ability to have a career while handling the duties of being a mom.

Family life hasn't come without conflicts, however. Her husband, Robert Blau, is BellSouth's federal regulatory counsel. Consequently, Mago has been forced to recuse herself from agency decisions dealing with the company specifically or, many times, with common-carrier issues in general. Still, even when she's had to delegate those duties, she insists, "I've never felt like I had nothing to do."