Meredith Baker Leaving NTIA

According to sources, Meredith Atwell Baker, acting head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and point person on the government's digital-TV-to-analog converter-box-coupon subsidy program, is exiting that post.

"Meredith Baker has been talking with Commerce Department officials for months about her desire to leave," confirmed NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak. "There is no timetable for her departure, and she is going to ensure a smooth transition to her future replacement."

Baker has only been running the NTIA since shortly before Thanksgiving, after the abrupt exit of John Kneuer just six weeks or so before the launch of the coupon program Jan. 1.

As acting assistant secretary for communications and information, she is responsible for administering the program that is distributing millions of $40 coupons the government will issue to consumers.

The NTIA is distributing two $40 coupons per household to help pay for the boxes, which allow analog-only TVs not hooked up to cable to receive over-the-air digital signals after Feb. 17, 2009, when full-power TV stations must pull the plug on analog.

Just two weeks ago, Baker was on Capitol Hill briefing legislators on the progress of the coupon program. The NTIA began mailing the coupons Feb. 18. More than 3.4 million households have requested more than 6.4 million coupons.

As acting head, Baker would have had to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to take over as official head of the agency.

The collegial and genial Baker had been considered a good fit for the high-profile phase of the coupon campaign, when the NTIA must work with industry and government partners on an education campaign.

Baker has been with the NTIA since 2004, when she joined as a senior advisor. The NTIA is the administration's telecommunications-policy advisor, but the DTV-transition-coupon program has put it in the spotlight as never before.

Before joining the NTIA, Baker was vice president of Williams Mullen Strategies and, before that, director of congressional affairs at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. Her resume also includes working in the legislative-affairs office at the State Department.

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) thanked her for her service and urged the White House to nominated a full-time replacement.

"Given ongoing concerns about the converter box coupon program, it is important that there be continuity of leadership at NTIA," he said in a statement, "I’m pleased Ms. Baker is committed to remaining at NTIA until a replacement is confirmed and urge the President to nominate a well-qualified replacement who is knowledgeable about the transition and whose arrival will not cause any disruptions at this critical time in the transition.”

Jason Oxman, senior VP of the Consumer Electronics Association, whose members are making those converter boxes and partnering with broadcast and cable operators to promote the DTV switch, praised Baker's service. “CEA applauds and thanks Meredith Attwell Baker for her years of dedicated service to the American people," he said. "We will continue to work with the dedicated public servants at NTIA, including the Administration’s new choice as the Assistant Secretary, on the successful implementation of the DTV converter box coupon program.  We appreciate the Administration’s strong commitment to ensuring the success of the nation’s transition to digital television on February 17, 2009.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.