Report: Rosenworcel Expected to Retain FCC Chair

jessica rosenworcel
Jessica Rosenworcel has been acting FCC chair since January. (Image credit: )

The latest buzz inside Washington, D.C. — based on a new report from Capitol Hill paper Politico — is that President Joe Biden will name acting Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel as permanent chair, and tap former top FCC counselor and Public Knowledge head Gigi Sohn to fill the third seat on the agency.

The progressive Sohn has been part of the conversation over who would fill the third seat, or be named permanent chair, particularly given President Biden's decision to name progressive Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission over the more-centrist acting chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.

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Sohn would certainly be a pick to please progressives while many on the Hill would cheer Rosenworcel's installation as the permanent — at least for this administration — FCC chair. But while Sohn has been an acolyte for net net neutrality rules that classified internet service providers as telecoms, before that, when then-FCC chairman Julius Genachowski offered a compromise proposal, she was willing to work with other stakeholders to find a way forward on the issue as head of Public Knowledge.

Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, whose argument that closing the digital divide is the rural electrification issue of this century, is said to continue to have influence on Biden communications policy and is definitely in Sohn‘s corner.

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Rosenworcel will have to leave by the end of the year if not renominated and confirmed to her commission seat since her term has already expired —commissioners are allowed to stay on until the end of the next Congress after the expiration of their term.

Rosenworcel opposed loosening broadcast ownership restrictions and eliminating network neutrality rules under former chairman Ajit Pai, and would almost certainly have the two more votes she needs to restore those regulations. Current Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks supports net neutrality rules and Sohn stumped for them as chief counselor to Wheeler, whose FCC imposed the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

Rosenworcel has been competing with Charles R. Denny, acting FCC chairman from Feb. 26, 1946, to Dec. 4, 1946, for the longest tenure as acting chair. Rosenworcel was named acting chair on Jan. 21, 2021.

The hold-up on Biden naming a permanent chair has apparently stemmed from a number of factors, including the early endorsement of Starks by the Congressional Black Caucus, whose leading member, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), was instrumental in Biden's election; the push by progressives for a more activist chair; and the apparent pushback on Rosenworcel by some former top FCC Dems.

If the president did not finally act and nominate candidates that could be confirmed without drama, there was the prospect of a three-person commission starting in January, majority Republican, with lone Democrat Starks as acting chair but unable to do anything the Republicans did not agree with.

John Eggerton

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.