FCC fills vacant seats as Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr are confirmed by Senate


Commissioner Rosenworcel at her confirmation hearing.
Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

You might not think it from the amount of controversy the agency has generated recently, but the FCC has been operating on a skeleton crew of three commissioners since the beginning of the year. That will soon no longer be the case, however, as the Senate has just confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr into the vacant positions, bringing the Commission to its five-person maximum.

Rosenworcel may be a name you recognize: she was actually a commissioner for years under Obama, and among other things was a big part of the 2015 Open Internet Order that created our present net neutrality rules. That’s her on the right after they passed the rules (and looking unamused in the top image):

Her term expired, however, and although she was re-nominated, she was not confirmed by the Senate despite promises by leadership there to do so. She was required by law to step down in the first few days of 2017, and although President Obama nominated her again before leaving office, President Trump withdrew that nomination in March.

That was a tactical move, causing the remaining three members to be split 2-1 along party lines and allowing the new chairman, Ajit Pai, to pursue his agenda unencumbered by effective dissent. As long as the 2-1 majority remained, all sorts of work could be done — or rather undone, as Pai’s most high-profile actions have been to walk back the accomplishments of the previous administration.

The administration took the safe route, waiting until it had someone on its side of the aisle to nominate simultaneously with Rosenworcel. That would bring things to 3-2. (The Commission is required by law to be party-balanced, with a maximum seat disparity of one.)

That someone turned out to be Brendan Carr; for the last few years he has been the FCC’s general counsel, and served as lead advisor to Ajit Pai during the latter’s term as commissioner. Before that, he worked at Wiley Rein, a law firm that has represented major ISPs and telecom associations.

While that last fact will probably be used as a brush to tar Carr as an industry shill, don’t forget that similar allegations were leveled at Tom Wheeler before he led the charge toward net neutrality. It’s not uncommon for a legal expert in the field of telecommunications law to represent or otherwise do work for the likes of AT&T, so it would be unwise to prejudge based on that.

On the other hand, his service as legal right hand to Pai during the last year of striving against the 2015 rules is more than enough evidence of complicity in that agenda. The legal and technical arguments behind the challenges are, as many have pointed out, shaky at best and deeply misleading at worst. If they were, as seems likely, the result of Pai and Carr putting their heads together, you can expect much more of that in the future now that Carr is on the Commission itself.

What do these confirmations mean for the challenge to net neutrality rules that has garnered more than 10 million comments? Not too much, practically speaking. The Commission is still ruled by a Republican majority and the idea of Carr being swayed to vote against the so-called “Restoring Internet Freedom” rulemaking is laughable.

In terms of optics, however, it would have been undesirable to vote on such a major undertaking without a full Commission — though they didn’t have that qualm regarding previous actions dismantling the previous Commission’s work. Now, however, the administration and FCC no longer leave themselves open to the criticism that this major decision was made with a 2-1 majority contrived by partisan operatives.

Carr and Rosenworcel have yet to be sworn in, but as soon as they are I will contact them to learn more about their positions and pet projects.

More TechCrunch

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI is removing ChatGPT’s AI voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft Build 2024: All the AI and hardware products Microsoft announced

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says