Acting Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel would not comment on the degree to which the president's failure to name a third Democratic commissioner has prevented it from taking action on some big issues — like restoring network neutrality rules — but she suggested the agency has been hard at work on other things and was still supportive of making net neutrality rules the law of the land, however that is achieved.
Her comments came at a press conference with reporters following the FCC's July monthly public meeting. The press conference was not open to the public but Rosenworcel said she hoped to make them so soon.
Asked whether, as President Joe Biden’s competition executive order urged, the FCC planned to restore the rules barring internet service providers from engaging in blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, she said she had long been a supporter of the rules and objected to the previous FCC's elimination of them.
She said she had no plans to announce on that front, but was grateful for Biden's support of network neutrality, which she called an important competition and consumer protection issue.
Rosenworcel was also asked whether she had consulted with the White House on the FCC-related issues before the order was released. She did not say yes or no, but did say that, across the board, there have been informal conversations with folks in Congress and the Administration and that when either asks why things “are the way they are,” the FCC is quick to supply its subject matter expertise.
As to whether the FCC could get a Republican commissioner on board with a net neutrality item, Rosenworcel suggested that while she can talk about the issue with the current (politically tied 2-2) commission, with a “full dias” (a Democratic majority) she might be able to have other options.
That “might” should be a “definitely” since Biden is highly unlikely to name a commissioner who does not support restoration of the rules. Names reportedly being considered for the third Democratic seat include Gigi Sohn, a former top adviser to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler; Edward “Smitty” Smith, a partner at law firm DLA Piper who has experience with overseeing multibillion-dollar broadband subsidies at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and at the FCC; Anna Gomez of powerhouse D.C. law firm Wiley; and Parul Desai, the FCC's deputy chief, Telecommunications Consumers Division, Enforcement Bureau, currently detailed (since September 2019) to the House Communications Subcommittee.
Rosenworcel did say she was hopeful the FCC planned to take a fresh look at broadband competition in apartment buildings. The Biden executive order asks the FCC to “initiate a rulemaking to prevent landlords and cable and internet service providers from inhibiting tenants’ choices among providers.”
The president can only urge, not order, an independent agency to act, but Rosenworcel signaled she was on the same page when it came to competition in multi-dwelling units.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.