U.S. President Joe Biden finally unveiled his picks for key telecom posts after an extended delay, tapping Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) first female chairperson.
In making his pick, Biden nominated Rosenworcel for another term on the Commission. Though Rosenworcel has been serving as acting chairwoman since January, her current term expired in mid-2020 and in accordance with agency rules she will be forced to leave following the close of the current session of Congress in January if she is not reconfirmed.
The president also named Gigi Sohn as his choice to fill the fifth seat on the FCC and Alan Davidson to take on the role as head of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Sohn previously served as a counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from 2013 to 2016 and in the decade before that co-founded and led the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. Davidson is currently a Senior Advisor at the Mozilla Foundation. He previously served as the first director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce; director of New America’s Open Technology Institute; and director of public policy for Google in the Americas.
All three nominations must be approved by the Senate to take effect.
Rosenworcel said in a statement she was "deeply humbled" by her designation as chair. In a Twitter post, Sohn said she was “deeply honored” by the President's nomination and “If confirmed, I'll work to fulfill his goal of ensuring that every household in the U.S. has robust broadband Internet.”
Industry groups including CTIA, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), WiFiForward and NCTA – The Internet and Television Association applauded the nods. The latter noted in a statement “If confirmed by the Senate, each of these individuals will play a critical role in the design of policy that will promote continued investment and innovation in wired and wireless broadband networks – including the growth of licensed and unlicensed platforms – and in supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next generation networks in unserved and underserved areas.”
Looking ahead, Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner told Fierce the ideal scenario from the Democratic party perspective would be that Rosenworcel and Sohn are confirmed together before the end of the year. However, given the limited days left on the legislative calendar, he said it is possible that Rosenworcel will have to leave the Commission in January. That would leave the FCC with a 2-1 Republican majority, but Entner noted Democrat appointee Geoffrey Starks would take the reins as acting chair with control over the agency’s agenda. This would allow him to ensure the FCC focuses on bipartisan items until Rosenworcel and Sohn are confirmed.
In terms of policy priorities for a Democrat-majority Commission led by Rosenworcel, Entner said reinstating net neutrality protections would be top of the list, followed by efforts to free up more spectrum for operators and enhance programs that make broadband more accessible for consumers.
New Street Research’s Blair Levin also highlighted an expected push around net neutrality in a note to investors. He added a Democrat majority would likely be “friendlier to unlicensed and shared spectrum regimes,” more willing “to block or heavily condition mergers” and “more aggressive on consumer protection issues.”
On the NTIA side of things, Levin noted Davidson “is likely to be the key point person for overseeing” distribution of billions in federal funding for broadband that is set to be included in a pending infrastructure bill. “While Congress has defined the parameters of the program, he will have significant flexibility in granting waivers, particularly as the law limits court challenges to NTIA’s decisions,” Levin wrote.