The FCC has its first-ever woman as chair of the agency, Jessica Rosenworcel, who has been serving as acting chair since the beginning of the year. President Biden officially appointed her to the position today, and nominated her for a new term — as well as FCC veteran and tireless policy advocate Gigi Sohn, who if confirmed would become the first openly LGBTQ+ commissioner in history.
The appointment has been a long time coming for Rosenworcel, who has worked at the FCC for nearly 20 years, and has been a commissioner for half that time, under three different presidents. She was among the authors and advocates for net neutrality and may yet succeed, despite the controversial binning of the policy under former Chairman Ajit Pai during the Trump administration.
That’s not all, of course: Rosenworcel has consistently worked for telecommunication and broadcast policies that are equitable and important, such as accessibility services and the huge Emergency Connectivity Fund currently being distributed. And she’s fought tooth and nail against robocalls, unethical data sharing and attempts to make the FCC into, as she put it at the time, “the president’s speech police.”
“I am deeply humbled to be designated as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden. It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the agency’s talented staff to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work, and learn in the digital age,” she said in a statement.
As acting chair, Rosenworcel was fully empowered to do her duty, but there was some question as to whether she would receive the full-time offer. One of the five positions at the FCC has remained conspicuously empty for more than a year, though President Biden could have nominated someone to it at any time. It was therefore an open question whether the administration was waiting to find the right person (who may also serve as chair), avoiding an unfavorable nomination environment, or just dragging its feet. I suspect only time will tell, but whatever the case, the nomination today of Gigi Sohn is smart and portentous. (Funnily enough, I spoke with her earlier this year about, among other things, likely nominees. She did not, to my recollection, mention herself.)
Sohn, Georgetown Law fellow and co-founder of Public Knowledge, served as general counsel for Chairman Tom Wheeler back in 2013-2016. Some may recognize this era as the big net neutrality push.
This is as big a hint as we’re likely to get that the FCC under Biden is winding up for a second shot at the popular policy, which prohibits companies from discriminating in their handling of different data streams. (For instance, Comcast couldn’t give priority on its broadband services to its own streaming apps.)
Having been taught a number of hard legal lessons and learned what is risky and what is merely politically charged, a new net neutrality policy would likely be leaner, smarter and more forward-thinking. Sohn, already a legal expert in these matters, has been making a study of the challenges faced during net neutrality’s extended court battle — so the new one, if and when it exists, will likely be very shrewdly and comprehensively justified legally.
As if her qualifications weren’t enough, Sohn would also if confirmed become the first LGBTQ+ commissioner, making this FCC extra historic.
Both will have to have their commissioner positions (though not Rosenworcel’s chairship) confirmed by the Senate, which that august body can hopefully find time for between negotiation sessions over Biden’s spending bill.