President Biden has appointed Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel for that spot permanently, although there is an important caveat related to that appointment. He also nominated Gigi Sohn, who was a counselor to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler during the Obama administration, for a seat on the commission. Prior to her work at the FCC, Sohn headed up public interest group Public Knowledge.
In addition, Biden nominated Alan Davidson, a lawyer with a specialty in telecom, to head the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Senate Confirmation Required
The FCC currently has only four commissioners – two Democratic and two Republican – which has put the commission at a sort of stalemate for several months. If Sohn’s nomination is approved by the Senate, the Democrats could have a majority on the five-member commission and would be positioned to adopt measures generally supported only by the Democrats such as Net Neutrality.
Rosenworcel’s current five-year term is set to expire in 2022, however, and she must be confirmed to a new five-year term. According to a report published by Politico, that must happen before year-end.
Rosenworcel has served on the commission since 2012, with an interruption of several months in 2017 after her first five-year term ended. In 2020, she advocated for an “audacious” broadband speed target of 100 Mbps – a target that doesn’t seem quite so audacious now, considering that it is finding its way into some government funding programs, including the third round of the USDA ReConnect program and certain programs included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Rosenworcel also may have coined the term “homework gap.” Among other things, she has advocated for expanding the FCC E-rate schools and library broadband program to cover home broadband – an idea that made its way into the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that directs money to schools and libraries to help cover connectivity and broadband equipment costs for students and library patrons.
Sohn is viewed as more liberal than Rosenworcel, but if Sohn is approved as commissioner, look for her to emphasize the centrist aspects of her policy recommendations.
“In my prior life I could get away with the occasional provocative quote, blog or tweet,” she said in a 2015 speech while at the FCC. “In fact, it was pretty much expected and sometimes even welcomed. Now I parse my words and make sure that my emails are boring. My Facebook feed now has only pictures of family and kittens. In my prior life, there was never a camera I didn’t want to be in front of or a comment I wanted off-the-record. Now ‘off the record’ is the first thing I say to a reporter. And I write every email, social media post or blog post as if it could one day appear on the front page of the New York Times.”
Davidson currently works for Mozilla, where he has been active in public policy since 2018.
The White House issued the announcement about the Rosenworcel appointment and Sohn and Davidson nominations earlier today.