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Wheeler: Rosenworcel Is Long-Term Communications Policy Leader

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's fingerprints are on "so much of what this agency has done."

Wheeler praised his fellow Democrat Thursday as she prepares to exit the commission following a fractious Senate's failure to vote her re-nomination by President Obama. Wheeler is exiting too. Some have argued his waiting until Thursday to make the official announcement factored into the lack of a vote on Rosenworcel, though Wheeler said this week he had made his leaving clear to Republicans and that the lack of a vote had more to do with them wanting a 2-1 majority after he left.

But the FCC's last public meeting was reserved for comity and parting salutes rather than shots.

"You have been a long-term leader in communications policy on the FCC staff [a top advisor to former commissioner Mike Copps] on the Senate Staff [as a top advisor to former Senate Commerce chairman Jay Rockefeller] and here as a commissioner," said Wheeler. "I don't think that there is an end point on that leadership and expect to see a lot more out of you in the coming years continuing that great tradition."

Wheeler pointed to her early championing of Title II reclassification of ISPs. "I remember you saying to me, 'no, the way to go is Title II,'" he said. The "no" reference is because Wheeler's initial attempt to address a court remand of the original Open Internet order did not include reclassification.

"You have always been attuned to the public safety community," he said, "and have been the champion of making sure that we live up to the first title of the Communications Act, which is public safety."

He pointed to her long-term advocacy for connecting schools and libraries. "The inventor of the term 'homework gap,' what a great way of encapsulating the set of challenges that faced us," he said. "You have been a huge protector of unlicensed spectrum, and the economy is the beneficiary of that. I have often referred to Commissioner Rosenworcel as the intellectual lodestone of the commission. She is whipsmart with an in-depth understanding of the Communications Act. But she always seems top be three to five steps ahead in her thinking."

Fellow Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that homework gap focus was legendary. "She has and will continue to have a lasting impact on the communications landscape and for these reasons and more I want to publicly, officially thank her," said Clyburn. 

Senior Republican commissioner Ajit Pai has history with Rosenworcel: "Commissioner Rosenworcel and I came here together, we were nominees together, we sat at a confirmation table together, we waited together and we were sworn in together in May 2012," he said. "Over the last four and a half years I have had the opportunity to see firsthand commissioner Rosenworcel's talent, her dedication, her perspicacity, her tenaciousness, her intellect, her kindness and most of all her dedication to the public interest.  Her legacy in public policy lives on and will be a rich one, indeed."

Republican Michael O'Rielly thanked her for her "service to our nation."

Then it was Rosenworcel's turn to talk: "It has been an honor, a privilege and a wild ride serving here as commissioner. I like to say that every day working here we have a front row seat at the digital revolution and every day we get to see how that is changing every aspect of civic and commercial life. And that has convinced me to believe truly, madly, deeply, that the future belongs to the connected and that this agency does its best work when it extends that future to more people in more places.

"I want to say thank you to President Obama for nominating me. Thank you senator Jay Rockefeller for having confidence in me and thank you to the chairman for what has undeniably been an activist agenda," she said, then thanked all her commissioner colleagues past and present for "their friendship and sometimes friction."

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.