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FCC Nominees Approved by Senate

The Senate voted Monday to confirm two new FCC nominees, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai, to fill the vacant seats on a five-member commission that has only had three members since the beginning of the year.

That came at the beginning of the session, with no fanfare and without their names being mentioned. Instead, it was nominees 512 and 513 approved without objection.

Pai and Rosenworcel are veteran Senate advisors with FCC experience and the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle. They were the consensus picks of Senate Republican and Democratic leaders for the two FCC seats vacated last year by commissioners Michael Copps (Rosenworcel's former boss), who retired at the end of the year, and Republican Meredith Attwell Baker, who exited last spring to join Comcast.

Rosenworcel is senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. Pai is a member of the communications law practice at Jenner & Block in Washington.

The pair could be sworn in at the commission by the end of the week, according to a former commissioner. Usually it is, at most, a few days between confirmation and installation.

Both Rosenworcel and Pai had been reported favorably out of the Senate Commerce Committee Dec. 8, 2011, but a full Senate vote was blocked by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) over an issue unrelated to their nominations -- the FCC's LightSquared waiver.

With Grassley's hold lifted two weeks ago, it freed up the nominations for the vote, which, as expected, was a big thumbs up.

They will face some big decisions early on, including media ownership rule review, the definition of multichannel video provider and the framework for spectrum incentive auctions.

Rosenworcel has been hip-deep in all those issues as top communications adviser to Sen. Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), while Pai's resume includes associate general counsel of Verizon. At his confirmation hearing, Pai extolled the virtues of today's smartphones. He said the best example of the technology that has come from private sector investment and innovation was his phone, on which he has watched TV shows, read articles and entire books, listened to radio stations, e-mailed friends, taken pictures, created videos, bought airline tickets, made restaurant reservations and even used it to install a cabinet with an app that turns the phone into a level.

He promised to stay within the bounds of FCC authority as set by Congress, echoing current Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, who has often counseled the commission to stick to enforcing the law rather than trying to make it.