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Robert M. McDowell

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Robert M. McDowell

Robert Malcolm McDowell
Commissioner Robert M. McDowell
Commissioner Robert M. McDowell
Born (1963-06-13) June 13, 1963
Residence Vienna, Virginia
Nationality United States
Education A.B. 1985 cum laude
J.D. 1990
Alma mater
Occupation lawyer
Employer Hudson Institute
Home town Vienna, Virginia
Political party
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Jennifer, née Griffin


Parents Martha Louise Shea McDowell
Hobart K. "Bart" McDowell, Jr.
Relatives Kelly McDowell, brother

Robert Malcolm McDowell (born June 13, 1963) served as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from June 1, 2006 to May 17, 2013. He is currently a partner in the Communications and Telecommunications practices at Wiley Rein LLP. [7]

Federal Communications Commissioner

Robert M. McDowell was first appointed to a seat on the Federal Communications Commission by Republican to be appointed to an independent agency by President Barack Obama. The U.S. Senate confirmed him unanimously on June 25, 2009.[8] Commissioner McDowell's second term ends June 2014, although he announced on March 20, 2013, his plans to step down early.

As a Commissioner, McDowell has worked to help consumers in the communications marketplace enjoy the benefits of more choices, lower prices and useful innovations through increased competition.[9] He believes that the government should try to remove barriers to entry, allowing competition to flourish.[10] While he acknowledges that there are instances when the government should step in to address market failure, he emphasizes that any remedies applied should be narrowly-tailored and sunseted, to maximize freedom for all market players.[11]

McDowell was widely perceived to be a front runner for Chairman of the FCC had Mitt Romney won the 2012 presidential election.[12][13] According to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, McDowell “gained a reputation of a statesmanlike conservative who can find common ground with his opposition without compromising his principles.” [14]

On May 17, 2013, Commissioner McDowell stepped down from the Commission to join the Hudson Institute's Center for Economics of the Internet as a visiting fellow.[15]

During the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) Women's History Month Celebration on April 10, 2013, MMTC reflected on Commissioner McDowell's time at the Commission and recognized his all-female staff, to which Commissioner McDowell responded, "It really wasn't by design. I just hired the most qualified people to do the job. And, I have been the net beneficiary of that." He also credited the strong female role models in his own family.[16]

In July, 2013, MMTC gave McDowell its highest award, the Everett C. Parker Award, for “rendering the most distinguished service, over many years, to diversity and inclusion in the media and telecom industries.” Over the years, this award has been given to both Republicans and Democrats, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and former FCC Chairman Richard E. Wiley. [17]

The Issues

Internet Freedom

Commissioner McDowell has long maintained that the Internet should remain free from government intrusion and that Internet governance works best through the non-governmental "Multistakeholder Model". This structure, which has been in place since the Internet's inception has worked well, he argues and is directly responsible for the Internet's rapid adoption throughout the globe.[18] McDowell has opposed attempts by other nations, such as China and Russia, to give the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) jurisdiction over many Internet governance matters.[19] [20] In 2010, he warned that attempts by the U.N. to regulate the Net were serious.[21] He served on the U.S. delegation to the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12).

McDowell’s February, 2012 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning of the increasing U.N. threat to Internet freedom dramatically raised awareness of the issue.[19] This seminal opinion article became the most widely read piece in the Journal for two consecutive days. Coupled with his ongoing advocacy and testimony before Congress in 2012, his efforts resulted in the House and Senate unanimously passing resolutions opposing the ITU’s expansion into Internet regulation.[22][23]

After the ITU voted 89-55 to include aspects of the Internet under ITU control in December, 2012, McDowell strongly criticized the vote as well as the efforts by proponents of Net freedom to work against the Net regulation efforts. He stated, "The United States should immediately prepare for an even more treacherous ITU treaty negotiation that will take place in 2014 in Korea. Those talks could expand the ITU’s reach even further. Accordingly, Internet freedom’s allies everywhere should more than redouble their efforts to erase the damage that was wrought today. Freedom and prosperity are at stake. Let’s never be slow to respond again."[24] On March 12, 2013, he testified before the Senate that "we are losing the fight for Internet freedom." [25]

In November, 2013, McDowell was appointed to the Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms - a diverse global group of Internet policy stakeholders from government, civil society, the private sector, the technical community and international organizations. [26] Chaired by the President of Estonia, Toomas Ilves, and containing highly accomplished panelists and thought leaders on Internet governance issues from across the world, the panel is working toward creating a framework for international Internet governance challenges. [27] The Panel released its report containing ideas regarding the future of Internet governance on May 20, 2014. McDowell issued a separate statement expressing his concern that the report did not go far enough to propose presumption against intergovernmental encroachment on the successful private sector, non-profit multistakeholder model of Internet governance. [28]

Net Neutrality

Commissioner McDowell has been an outspoken critic of net neutrality rules, casting a dissenting vote based on four primary concerns: 1) Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing; 2) The FCC does not have the legal authority to issue net neutrality rules; 3) The rules are likely to cause irreparable harm; and 4) Existing law and Internet governance structures provide ample consumer protection in the event a systemic market failure occurs.[29]

On January 14, 2014, a federal appeals court threw out much of the FCC’s net neutrality order and cited McDowell’s dissent. [30] The court interpreted Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, however, as giving the FCC limited authority to manage broadband markets. [31] In a Wall Street Journal op-ed the following day, McDowell warned that further action by the FCC would only encourage other governments across the globe to regulate the Net as well, including through international treaties. [32]

Ending Discrimination in Broadcast Advertising

In 2007, McDowell led an effort with then-FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to adopt a proposal first made in 1984 by the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) to ban the use of racially discriminatory so-called “no urban, no Hispanic dictates” in broadcast advertising.[33][34] This anti-discrimination rule became the first new federal civil rights rule adopted in a generation.[35][35][36][37] In recognition of his leadership, NABOB and Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA) presented McDowell with awards in 2012 and 2008 respectively.[38]

Universal Service and Intercarrier Compensation

Commissioner McDowell believes that the first priority in reforming universal service is “to restore fiscal responsibility to this program.”[39] He has long stated that USF reform should include the following five basic objectives: (1) contain the growth of the Fund; (2) broaden the base of contributors; (3) reduce the contribution burden; (4) ensure competitive neutrality; and (5) eliminate waste, fraud and other abuses of the system.[40] In October 2011 and January 2012, McDowell worked with his fellow Commissioners to bend the spending curve of the high cost and lifeline portions of the Universal Service Fund.[41] Working from a one to three partisan divide, McDowell helped lead the first adoption of spending controls on a federal entitlement in a generation.[42][43] He has continued to call for reform of the universal service "taxing" mechanism.[42]

Fairness Doctrine

Commissioner McDowell has been a long-standing critic of the Fairness Doctrine and has repeatedly called for the FCC to repeal the remnants of the Fairness Doctrine from its books.[44] On August 12, 2008, FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell stated that the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine could be intertwined with the debate over network neutrality.[45] He outlined the history of the Fairness Doctrine in a January 2009 speech at the Media Institute. He again called for its elimination from the FCC's rulebook in May 2011.[46] In August, 2011 the FCC's Media Bureau issued an order removing all references to the Fairness Doctrine from the Code of Federal Regulations.

White Spaces

Commissioner McDowell has long supported unlicensed uses of vacant TV broadcast channels known as “white spaces.” Commissioner McDowell applauded the FCC’s November 2008 rules to open up white spaces for unlicensed use stating, “Robust unlicensed use of white spaces will give nimble entrepreneurs the freedom to disrupt the market in positive and constructive ways that will force incumbents to keep pace with this new revolution. As a result, the pressure created by dynamic competition will knock down barriers created by walled gardens and pry open closed networks. This liberation will come about not through increased regulation, but through increased competition.”[47]

700 MHz Auction

Commissioner McDowell dissented in part to the Commission’s July 2007 rules governing the 700 MHz spectrum auction, arguing that the overly proscriptive rules, such as the open access requirement, would discourage some bidders and ultimately decrease the proceeds from the auction.[48]

FCC Reform

Commissioner McDowell has long advocated major reforms to the FCC’s structure and operations. In 2009, he sent letters to Acting Chairman Copps and Chairman Genachowski outlining some of his ideas.[49][50] McDowell called for an audit of the FCC’s operations, finances and ethical practices and also wanted the agency to consider restructuring itself.[51] Commissioner McDowell stated “the bottom line is simple: No commissioner should learn of official actions through the trade press. Maybe we could call this our ‘leave no Commissioner behind’ program.[52] He further outlined his ideas for reforming the agency and eliminating unnecessary regulations in a speech at TIA in May 2011[46] and in his July 2011 testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.[53] McDowell has called for a fundamental rewrite of federal communications laws calling them "outdated." [23][54]

AT&T Recusal

McDowell recused himself from a vote on an $86 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth citing his 2006 ethics agreement with the Senate Commerce Committee.[55] AT&T then allegedly campaigned against McDowell’s renomination to the Commission in 2009.[56] Endorsed by Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, AT&T’s efforts to block McDowell’s renomination were unsuccessful, as Commissioner McDowell was reconfirmed June 2009.

Digital Television Transition

Commissioner McDowell traveled to over 20 television markets to raise awareness about the digital television transition and wrote numerous op-eds on the topic. He was especially critical that the Commission lacked a coordinated call center response only one month prior to the original February 17, 2009 cut-off date. In a January 14, 2009 letter to then-Chairman Martin he expressed his concern about the Commission’s lack of readiness, emphasizing that “the Commission must be better organized, more energetic and must coordinate its efforts in a more open and collaborative manner.”[57] The DTV transition deadline was later extended by Congress to June 12, 2009.

Helping the Creation of Medical Body Area Networks (mBANs)

In early 2009, McDowell initiated an effort with then-Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps to resurrect long-pending proceedings to provide spectrum for wireless medical technologies called Medical Body Area Networks (mBANs).[58] This effort resulted in the revolutionary approval of low-power medical wireless devices to operate in specific frequencies, making the U.S. the first country in the world to make spectrum available for this specific usage.[59] Devices used in these frequencies include electronic implants that allow paralyzed patients to regain use of their limbs, as well as mobile monitors of patients’ vital signs.[60][61][62]


Early career

Commissioner McDowell is a former lobbyist for telecommunications companies that compete against the Baby Bells. Immediately before his confirmation to the FCC, he was senior vice president and assistant general counsel of COMPTEL (Competitive Telecommunications Association), an industry trade group of competitive (non-RBOC) telephone companies.

Prior to joining CompTel in February 1999, McDowell served as the executive vice president and general counsel of America's Carriers Telecommunications Association (ACTA), which merged with CompTel at that time.[63]

McDowell was graduated cum laude from Duke University in 1985. After serving as chief legislative aide to Virginia Delegate Robert T. Andrews (R-McLean), he attended the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary.[64] Upon his graduation from law school in 1990, McDowell joined the Washington, D.C., office of the national law firm of Arter & Hadden where he focused on communications law.[65]

His involvement in civic and political affairs spans four decades. He was appointed by Bush-Cheney Florida recount team.[6] Among many other endeavors, McDowell has twice been a candidate for the Virginia General Assembly.[1] He is a former Chairman of the Board of the McLean Project for the Arts, which strives to connect emerging artists with communities in the Washington region.

Later career

In May 2013, McDowell became a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Economics of the Internet.[66][67] In December 2013 he served in London on the Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms, a group focused on a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance. The Panel released a high-level report on May 20, 2014 which includes principles for global Internet cooperation, proposed frameworks for such cooperation and a roadmap for future Internet governance challenges. [68] McDowell issued a separate statement expressing his concern that the report did not go far enough to propose presumption against intergovernmental encroachment on the successful private sector, non-profit multistakeholder model of Internet governance. [69]

Bar admissions

Personal life

He is the son of the late Hobart K. McDowell, Jr., a former senior editor of National Geographic Magazine, and the late Martha Louise Shea McDowell, a former journalist and public relations executive. He resides on the farm where he grew up near Vienna, Virginia with his wife, the former Jennifer Griffin, and their three children.[70][71]

In the Media


  • Staring Down Internet Freedom's Foes | Politico | November 30, 2012
  • The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom, Pt. II | Wall Street Journal | February 21, 2012
  • Broadband Baloney | Wall Street Journal | July 24, 2007
  • Who Should Solve This Internet Crisis? | Washington Post | July 28, 2008
  • Are You Ready For Feb. 17 Transition? | Richmond Times-Dispatch | December 1, 2008
  • Hands off the Internet, please | Washington Post | April 9, 2010
  • Proposed Internet Regulation: A Harmful Blast from the Past | The Daily Caller | July 15, 2010
  • The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom | Wall Street Journal | July 22, 2010
  • The FCC's Threat to Internet Freedom | Wall Street Journal | December 20, 2010
  • 9/11 and the Forgotten History of the Public Safety Communications Network that was Never Built | The Daily Caller | September 9, 2011
  • A U.N. Regulated Internet? The Case for Defending Against Persistent Intergovernmental Threats to Internet Freedom | Engage, The Journal of the Federalist Society Practice Groups | Volume 13, Issue 3, October 2012
  • Technology and the Sovereignty of the Individual | Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law, University of Colorado at Boulder | Volume 10, Issue 2, December 2012


  • McDowell Shows Independence | By Arshad Mohammed | Washington Post | August 8, 2006
  • Dingell Gets His Man | Wall Street Journal | December 19, 2006
  • Amid Twists at FCC Review, AT&T Hurdles Loom | By Amy Schatz | Wall Street Journal | December 19, 2006
  • FCC to Feel Unfamiliar Heat From Democrats | By Charles Babington | Washington Post | January 26, 2007
  • Robert McDowell | WhoRunsGov | March 8, 2011


  • Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA) Chair Award in recognition of commitment to excellence and for leadership on eliminating discriminatory practices in broadcast advertising. (2008)[38]
  • The Consumer Electronics Association Digital Patriot Award for preserving and advancing technology, entrepreneurship and the spirit of American innovation. (2011)[38]
  • The Media Institute Freedom of Speech Award for defending the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. (2011)[38]
  • National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) Power of Urban Radio Award for outstanding leadership and meritorious service in helping to eliminate discriminatory advertising practices in broadcasting. (2012)[38]
  • Sports Fan Coalition Most Valuable Policymaker Award. (2012)[38]
  • The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Policy Studies Jerry B. DuVall Public Service Award in recognition of his exercise of political courage in, and contribution of analytical rigor to, the United States telecom policy debate. (2013)[38]
  • The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) Everett C. Parker Lifetime Achievement Award for his visionary leadership in promoting minority entrepreneurship, advertising non-discrimination, and universal broadband access and adoption, and for the many extraordinary contributions he has made throughout his lifetime to the diversity and success of America’s most influential and important industries. (2013)[72]


  1. ^ a b c "Alumni Profile: Robert McDowell '77 - The Langley School". Archived from the original on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  2. ^ "Volunteers" (PDF).  
  3. ^ a b "Bush Nominates McDowell for FCC Slot". Comptel Connection. Comptel. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  4. ^ "Spring 2006 Class notes". William & Mary School of Law. Spring 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-11. Robert M. McDowell JD ’90 was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee... 
  5. ^ "Statement of Commissioner Robert M. McDowell".  
  6. ^ a b "Robert M. McDowell".  
  7. ^ Wiley Rein Bio
  8. ^ Biography of FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell
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  10. ^ Profile of FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell” Rural Telecommunications: The Magazine of Rural Teleco Management, March–April 2007
  11. ^ Profile of FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell” Rural Telecommunications: The Magazine of Rural Teleco Management, March–April 2007)
  12. ^ Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Oct. 22, 2012, p. 13
  13. ^ Communications Daily, October 31, 2012, p. 4
  14. ^ Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Oct. 22, 2012, p. 15
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  70. ^ "Obituary: Martha Louise Shea McDowell, Public Relations Executive".  
  71. ^ "Obituary : Martha Shea McDowell, 80, Journalist". McLean Connection ( 
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  • Wiley Rein Bio (accessed 2014-10-27)
  • Biography of FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell (accessed 2007-12-06)
  • Robert M. McDowell: Portrait of an FCC lobbyist - LLFCC.NET (accessed 2007-12-06)
  • COMPTEL - Robert M. McDowell - Bio (accessed 2007-12-06)
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