The Biden administration has officially appointed commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, interim president of the FCC, and she will likely be nominated to officially take up the post later this year, which would make her the first woman to hold the post. With its record in favor of equal access, industry accountability and net neutrality, Rosenworcel’s FCC will be very different from its predecessor.
(Update: This article previously stated that Rosenworcel would be the first interim FCC president, but Mignon Clyburn served in the interim role for several months in 2013 while Tom Wheeler was confirmed. However, Rosenworcel will most likely be the first woman to officially hold the post if, as this appointment suggests and many expect, she is appointed to it later this year.)
“I am honored to be appointed Interim Chair of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden. 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 to work on their behalf to expand the reach of communication possibilities in the digital age, ”she said in a statement.
As Rosenworcel’s agenda is clarified over the coming weeks and months, it’s likely we’ll see the return of net neutrality from the shallow grave dug by Ajit Pai, and possibly a new effort to better understand where in the country really needs help to deliver broadband to those who need it, and how to do it quickly and fairly. However, his early work will likely focus on Internet access to those most affected by the pandemic.
(Disclosure: The FCC regulates TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon, but this has no effect on our coverage.)
Rosenworcel started with the FCC in 2003 and has held other federal communications regulatory positions over the years. She was appointed commissioner by President Obama in 2011 (confirmed in 2012) and was vying for the presidency in 2013, although Tom Wheeler ended up taking the place. His second term as commissioner began in 2017.
Throughout his tenure at the FCC, Rosenworcel lobbied for net neutrality and improved broadband access for schools and economically disadvantaged areas. During Ajit Pai’s tumultuous tenure as president, she offered relentless resistance to what she saw as an unwarranted approach to telecommunications regulation and a fierce indictment of the FCC’s inability to act in the best interests of the people it serves. Here are some examples.
In the 2017 vote killing net neutrality, Rosenworcel spared no efforts to voice his fury at the obscurity of the entire rule-making process:
I do not agree with this rash decision to go back on the rules of Net neutrality. I disagree with the corrupt process that got us to this point. And I do not agree with the contempt this agency has shown our citizens by pursuing this path today. This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, on the wrong side of the law, and on the wrong side of the American public.
In 2018, with an epidemic of robocalls growing month by month, she contradicted Pai’s claim that a $ 120 million fine (almost certainly never collected) for an offender proved there was a ” cop on the spot “:
Today, the FCC is passing a forfeiture order to impose a penalty on an operation that made tens of millions of automated calls two years ago. I support her. But let’s be honest: tackling a single bad actor is emptying the ocean with a teaspoon – and right now we’re all wet.
That the industry again did not broadly embrace the framework that would nip robocalls in the bud, though they should soon after the FCC finally got underway. (This year, she also contributed to TechCrunch to call for immediate action on the 5G deployment.)
In 2019, Rosenworcel denounced the agency’s apparent lack of concern over a major loophole in telecommunications regulations that allowed every mobile service provider to essentially sell real-time location data to anyone willing to pay for it. :
The FCC has been completely silent on press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location a few hundred yards away based on your cordless phone data. This is unacceptable.
His office issued letters to the major carriers’ agency as an interim measure to inform people. When the FCC finally formally opposed the practice, she noted, “It’s a shame it took the FCC so long to come to such an obvious conclusion.
In 2020, Rosenworcel raised for the nth time the lack of good data from the FCC regarding the deployment of broadband in the country. The problem had lasted for years, but was highlighted by a dramatic failure in verifying industry data provided more or less on the honor system, which ended up throwing numbers nationwide:
That should have set off alarm bells at the FCC. In fact, agency staff have contacted the company almost a dozen times over several years, including after the suspicious data was filed. Despite these behind-the-scenes efforts, on February 19, 2019, the FCC used flawed data filed by BarrierFree in a press release, claiming great strides in bridging the country’s digital divide. When an outside party pointed out that this was based on fraudulent information, the FCC was forced to revise its claim.
An embarrassing demonstration of the poverty of the current system. Of the broadband report itself, she had written earlier:
This report deserves a failing grade. Putting aside the embarrassing awkwardness of the FCC blindly accepting incorrect data for the original version of this report, there are serious issues with its basic methodology. Time and time again, this agency has recognized the serious limitations of the data we collect to assess broadband deployment.
After all, if the FCC doesn’t know who really gets decent broadband and who doesn’t, how can it allocate funds to help close that gap?
Finally, at the end of 2020, when Pai gave in to pressure from the administration to reassess the all-important section 230, which limits the liability of internet platforms for content posted on them, Rosenworcel once again summed up the situation in a simple and honest way:
The timing of this effort is absurd. The FCC has nothing to do with policing the President’s word.
This failed attempt to weaken Section 230 never had any legs to begin with and will not be continued further, according to an FCC source.
These are just a few of the most publicized moments of Rosenworcel’s last term, and in fact, it’s somewhat unnecessary to list them alone. The work of an FCC commissioner, his staff and the offices upon which he relies is largely obscure and technical, with moments like those listed above more the exception than the rule.
With last-minute confirmation from Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington, the FCC is currently 2-2 in its normally 3-2 partisan lineup in favor of the presiding administration. Given that Democrats won both Senate seats in Georgia, the dreaded deadlock will likely be avoided, with a fifth commissioner appointed and confirmed as soon as possible so that work can begin. We will know more about Rosenworcel’s priorities and agenda soon.