Federal Communications Commission acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is not expected to be nominated by President Joe Biden to serve in the role on a permanent basis, people familiar with the matter said, because she is not liberal enough for the administration. Jessica Rosenworcel served as a member of the FCC from 2012 until 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais
FCC head Rosenworcel on way out because she’s not liberal enough for Biden
Nihal Krishan October 17, 07:00 AM October 17, 07:00 AM
Federal Communications Commission acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is not expected to be nominated by President Joe Biden to serve in the role on a permanent basis, people familiar with the matter said, because she is not liberal enough for the administration.
The five-member agency, which is in charge of regulating the TV, radio, and telecommunications industries along with ensuring broadband internet access, has been missing one commissioner and a full-time chairman since Biden became president at the beginning of this year. The shortage of personnel has hampered Democrats from moving full-steam ahead with their ambitious broadband and telecommunications agenda.
Currently, the agency has two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. When Rosenworcel’s term ends at the end of this year, Republicans could have a 2-1 advantage in votes.
Liberals say that by failing to choose a full-time chairman to the agency, Biden has signaled that the commission is not important to his agenda, while agency-related issues important to Democrats continue to linger, such as restoring net neutrality rules, increasing internet price transparency, scrutinizing major telecommunications mergers, and improving competition among internet providers.
Instead of Rosenworcel, the Biden administration is holding out for an FCC chairperson in the mold of Lina Khan, four sources familiar with the matter told the Washington Examiner, the Federal Trade Commission chairwoman who is an anti-monopolist and a vocal critic of Big Tech’s powers favored by progressives.
”Jessica has been around a long time, and she’s a real professional, but she’s not someone who is looking to revolutionize the FCC in the way Lina Khan is at the FTC,” a person familiar with Rosenworcel’s situation said.
“The problem is Jessica is perceived as not progressive enough, and the administration feels the left wing of the party doesn’t support her. She has no sizzle,” the person added.
Liberals in the telecommunications and broadband policy space say that Rosenworcel isn’t willing to go as far as the administration wants in terms of instituting changes that further Biden’s anti-inequality agenda through increased regulations and scrutiny of telecommunications companies and internet service providers.
“It’s true that Rosenworcel is not a transformative progressive nominee in the vein of Lina Khan,” said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group that advocates for greater broadband access and competition.
Instead, he said, the White House wants to pick someone who sends a clear signal to the telecommunications industry that broadband will not be treated as a lightly regulated space where good quality internet access is a luxury.
“The nominee will have to challenge a lot of powerful interests, and Biden wants to nominate someone that represents a departure from the old guard and turns a new page — that is not Rosenworcel,” Falcon said.
Last month, two dozen mostly centrist Democratic senators wrote a letter expressing their support for Rosenworcel for a full term as commissioner.
Some FCC insiders say that the letter, which was signed by centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona but did not have the support of progressives such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Bernie Sanders of Vermont, may have actually worked against Rosenworcel.
“It’s a double-edged sword to get support from senators, especially moderate ones. The White House typically wants to pick their own person to lead agencies,” a person familiar with the matter said.
“The desire to find a true progressive for the FCC, somebody that can survive the nomination process, someone other than Rosenworcel, that hasn’t been quenched yet,“ the person added.
Rosenworcel, 50, was first appointed to the commission by President Barack Obama in 2012 and later reappointed by President Donald Trump.
Before becoming a commissioner, she served as senior communications counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee before which she worked for the Wireline Competition Bureau of the FCC.
Prior to entering public service, she practiced communications law. She went to college at Wesleyan University and studied law at New York University. In 2012, Politico put her on their top 50 politicos to watch list, describing her as “the perfect blend of regulatory and legislative chops to get things done.”
Democrats say that Biden has thus far been good at nominating strong progressives to key positions in his administration, particularly when it comes to his economic and tech agenda, and that the FCC should not be an exception.
The key progressive nominations include Khan as chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, Jonathan Kanter as the head of the antitrust division at the Department of Justice, and Rohit Chopra as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“President Biden has progressive leaders at the FTC and (soon-to-be) at the DOJ antitrust, so it would be discordant not to have someone similar at the head of the FCC,” a Democrat familiar with the situation said. “Jessica Rosenworcel is more of a status quo moderate. The three agencies work together a lot, so all three leaders should be on the same page.”
People familiar with the inner workings of the FCC say Biden is yet to nominate a permanent chairman or a fifth commissioner to the commission because the agency isn’t as important to the Biden agenda as other agencies and that time in the legislative calendar is limited.
“There’s been a significant diminishment of the FCC with the Biden agenda. It’s not nearly as useful as the FTC, DOJ, or CPFB, which all have many more levers of power to enact economic change,” a person familiar with the matter said.
Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure plan, which is central to his agenda, would direct $65 billion toward expanding broadband internet to people who can’t access or afford it. That money, though, would be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, not the FCC.
However, liberal scholars of broadband and telecommunications policy say the commission is still key to the Democrats’ broader economic agenda.
In particular, the agency is at the heart of the Democrats’ fight to restore net neutrality rules from the Obama administration, Biden’s push for price transparency and competition among internet providers, and the effort to reduce consolidation in the telecommunications industry through merger reviews of deals, such as the T-Mobile-Sprint one from earlier this year.
“It’s inexplicable why this has occurred. No president in living memory has taken this long to fill their FCC,” said Josh Stager, deputy director of broadband and competition policy at New America’s Open Technology Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “Even Trump, who left many positions vacant for years, had a fully functioning FCC at this point in his presidency,” Stager said.
“The urgency should be pretty clear by now, and if the White House wanted to find someone in the Lina Khan mold, they exist in spades, so it’s not clear why they haven’t chosen one of them. It makes no sense at all,” Stager added.
The White House declined to comment for this story, and Rosenworcel did not respond to requests for comment.
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