Biden Eyes Jessica Rosenworcel as Top FCC Job Candidate

Jessica Rosenworcel could replace Ajit Pai as FCC chairman. Many see her as someone who will restore network neutrality at the regulator.

Yesterday, we reported on the concerns raised about impeached president Donald Trumps FCC nomination, Nathan Simington. The concern is that, with his nomination, he would help transform the regulator into the Internet speech police.

Of course, as we know, Trump lost the election – by a lot. So, one question might be, what will incoming president, Joe Biden do? Well, we are seeing some signs of action on that part.

Rumblings are surfacing that Jessica Rosenworcel is the top contender for the big chair at the regulator. From Variety:

The Federal Communications Commission will soon shift to Democratic control, and speculation has already begun about who will assume the chairmanship under the Biden administration.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the senior Democrat on the commission, is widely considered to be one of the leading candidates to succeed Ajit Pai in the powerful regulatory post. She has been vetted twice and would likely have a smooth path to confirmation, which would be a key consideration assuming the Senate remains in Republican hands.

“I think Jessica Rosenworcel probably has the best chance of becoming chair,” said John Orlando, former head of global government affairs at CBS. “The ease of her getting confirmed is far easier than anybody else.”

Thus far, Biden has staffed his administration with experienced Washington hands, rather than reaching for outside-the-box choices. That has led many to believe he would go with Rosenworcel or perhaps Geoffrey Starks, the other Democrat on the commission.

But relationships are also important, and Biden could select someone other than a current commissioner to chair the regulatory body. Edward “Smitty” Smith, a partner at DLA Piper in Washington, is one such possibility.

Smith is a D.C. native who served as an adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. He was also a bundler for Biden’s presidential campaign, and hosted a fundraiser for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the fall of 2019. (Harris’ husband, entertainment attorney Douglas Emhoff, works in DLA Piper’s Los Angeles office.) Along with Mignon Clyburn, Smith was named to the Biden FCC transition team.

As many may recall, Ajit Pai headed up the FCC during the Trump administration. He is the guy that effectively killed network neutrality in 2017. This in spite of dire warnings not to internally.

After that, the obvious ensued. ISPs began cutting investment and slashing jobs thanks to the repeal. That in contradiction to the promise that the move would increase investment and jobs. Many American’s responded by flocking to VPN services in an effort to retain any semblance of a free and open Internet. Earlier this year, we saw the beginning collapse of the open Internet after ISPs began rolling out fast lanes as well. In short, the repealing of network neutrality was, as predicted, a total disaster.

So, any sign that there is going to be efforts to restore sanity and bring back network neutrality is a positive sign. With these candidates, it appears that people who could do so are becoming leading candidates for these important roles.

Another issue that has been a more recent one with the regulator is the future of Section 230. That is going to be a bit more difficult to predict. Earlier, the FCC flip-flopped on it’s hands off approach to regulation and laid the ground work for why it can move forward with heavy Republican regulation. Specifically, they are trying to control what you can and cannot say on social media. The way they are going about this is by threatening to remove Section 230 protections for social media platforms who don’t take a pro-conservative bias to moderating user content.

So, on the surface, you might think that, with a change in government, this issue would get resolved. As it turns out, this one may not be so simple. This is because Democrats want to reform the non-problematic laws as well. This has led to petty and non-productive hearings surrounding the law. What the effort will look like after Biden takes over is unclear at this stage. The hope may be that there is no consensus on which way to reform the law and leave it as-is. At best, though, that is a bit of a long shot for how things will play out for the time being.

Still, this move does signal that change is coming to the regulator. With the direction the regulator has been going in the last four years, almost any change is going to be welcome news for those that believe in a free and open Internet. We’ll have to see what these changes will ultimately look like before we start the celebrations, though.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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