Biden appoints Rosenworcel as acting chair of FCC

It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but now it’s official: President Joe Biden has designated FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as acting chairwoman of the FCC. 

The announcement was made on Thursday after many weeks of speculation that she would be named to the position.

“I thank the President for the opportunity to lead an agency with such a vital mission and talented staff,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It is a privilege to serve the American people and work on their behalf to expand the reach of communications opportunity in the digital age.”

Rosenworcel, a Democrat, takes the role just a day after former Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, left the agency. He was also one of many well-wishers to Rosenworcel on Thursday.

In remarks during the FCC’s first meeting of 2021 and Pai’s last FCC meeting, she praised Pai for his work at the commission and for keeping everyone safe during the pandemic. She noted that she, too, is often working from home and playing a lot of different roles – running an office call one moment and speaking via video at another. The mother of two children, she also serves as resident Wi-Fi fixer and snack-maker.  

Rosenworcel started as a commissioner in 2012. Before that, she was senior communications counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation under the leadership of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and Senator Daniel Inouye.

Prior to entering public service, she practiced communications law in Washington, D.C. (Fun fact: Her brother, Brian Rosenworcel, is a drummer for a rock band called Guster.)

Some groups, including Color of Change, had been calling for Biden to appoint FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks as the FCC chair. Starks succeeded Mignon Clyburn, whose name also has come up in talks about acting or a more permanent chair role. Clyburn, the daughter of U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, (D-South Carolina), in November was named to serve on Biden’s FCC Review Team.

Biden still will need to nominate a Democrat to serve on the commission. Whether that person will be the chair remains to be seen. Former President Trump was able to get his nomination of Republican Nathan Simington approved before his departure, after having abruptly withdrawn his nomination of Michael O’Rielly for another term. For the time being, the commission is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans.

CTIA, CCA cheer move

On Thursday, all kinds of applause came from organizations and individuals across the wireless industry reacting to Rosenworcel’s appointment.  

CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker noted Rosenworcel’s strong commitment to closing the homework gap and getting more mid-band spectrum for U.S. operators.

“Commissioner Rosenworcel is a powerful voice and strong leader seeking connectivity for all Americans,” Baker said in a statement. “We share her commitment and her special focus on the pressing need to close the homework gap. She also has a keen understanding of the importance of wireless to meeting those goals, and has championed the need for more spectrum particularly mid-band spectrum, to facilitate the continued growth and expansion of our nation’s 5G networks, bringing connectivity to more Americans, and closing the digital divide.”

CCA President and CEO Steve Berry said his organization looks forward to working with Rosenworcel and the commission to “bring robust mobile wireless connectivity to all Americans.”

It's Rosenworcel’s work in getting more unlicensed spectrum into the hands of Americans that won the support of others like the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).

“Since coming to the FCC in 2012, Acting FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel has been a forward-thinking champion of bridging the digital divide, and of expanding access to broadband through, among other means, more unlicensed spectrum,” said WISPA President and CEO Claude Aiken. “She has a tremendous understanding of how the FCC works, deep knowledge of communications law, FCC rules and policy precedents, and is keenly aware of the needs of the various stakeholders in our multi-faceted communications industry.”

5G Americas expressed congratulations as well. “5G Americas looks forward to continuing to work with the acting Chairwoman and the entire FCC on important wireless communications issues and opportunities for the U.S.,” said 5G Americas President Chris Pearson.