Rosenworcel Named Acting FCC Chairwoman

Commissioner who has championed net neutrality and closing the digital divide for students will preside over a deadlocked commission.

  • FCC

 

Washington, D.C. -- President Joseph R. Biden designated FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC. 

If Rosenworcel did get the job, it would mark the first time a woman would lead the agency in its 86-year history. Besides former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Rosenworcel is the second woman to serve as the acting chair of the regulator.

“I am honored to be designated as the Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden,” Rosenworcel said. “I thank the President for the opportunity to lead an agency with such a vital mission and talented staff. It is a privilege to serve the American people and work on their behalf to expand the reach of communications opportunity in the digital age.”

Rosenworcel, the senior Democrat on the commission, is seen by industry observers to be a likely candidate to take over from Ajit Pai. She has already served as a commissioner for two terms and would have an easy pathway to being confirmed by what may be a Republican-led Senate.

During her terms as an FCC commissioner, Rosenworcel was a voice for key regulatory measures such as net neutrality, overturning state laws that inhibited municipal broadband and changing the definition of broadband from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps. She was also proponent of finding ways to close the ‘homework gap’ and expanding internet access to all students long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Earlier, she served as Senior Communications Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, under the leadership of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and Senator Daniel Inouye. Before entering public service, Rosenworcel practiced communications law in Washington, DC.

Prior to taking office, the FCC was led by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, giving the Republicans a 3-2 majority. However, now that Pai stepped down yesterday Jan. 20, Biden can now nominate a Democratic chair.

Rosenworcel, a Democrat, holds a different ideology than Pai. She is a supporter of the net neutrality laws that were passed during the Obama administration, which were overturned in 2017 when Pai oversaw the commission.

She enters the role as acting chairwoman with various challenges. For one, Rosenworcel will oversee a deadlocked commission that features two Democrats and two Republicans, with Trump’s nominee Nathan Simington getting confirmed by Congress just before his term expired. When Biden picks the spot vacated by Pai, the FCC will give the Democrats a 3-2 majority. The other FCC commissioners are currently Democrat Geoffrey Starks and Republican Brendan Carr.

Recent reports from Variety and other media outlets  suggested possible Rosenworcel as several possible candidates replacements to assume the Chairman position under the Biden administration.

Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the nonpartisan public policy think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation told S&P Global Market intelligence that Rosenworcel and Edward "Smitty" Smith, a telecom attorney who has worked as a legal adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration are the two top candidates.

"They are both eminently qualified and would make great chairs, but if I had to bet, I'd lean toward Smitty," Brake said in a S&P Global Market intelligence report. "He is close to the administration ... and with Democrats taking the Senate, it becomes much easier to get a new, outside commissioner seated."

Former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who served on the agency between 2009-18, is another possible candidate. Clyburn is the daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a congressman who endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential bid. Also, Mignon Clyburn has been named to Biden’s transition team for the FCC.

Other potential picks Biden could consider are Edward “Smitty” Smith, a partner at DLA Piper in Washington, DC. Smith previously served as an adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Biden could also consider Anna Gomez, a partner at Wiley Rein, a major D.C. law firm involved in communications issues. Gomez previously served as an official at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration until 2013, and earlier worked in various roles at the FCC. She has also been named to the Biden transition’s agency review team for the Department of Commerce.

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