Jessica Rosenworcel was speculated to be a top pick for the FCC chairperson. Now, she is serving as acting chairperson.
It’s been a rough four years for everyone in the United States. That includes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). During the Trump administration, the FCC was chaired by Ajit Pai. During his tenure, the FCC scrapped network neutrality – a key pillar to protecting the integrity of the Internet. Then, on the leadup to the US election, Pai got the ball rolling on attacking another key legal component of the Internet – Section 230. The FCC, at the behest of temper tantrum president, laid out why it wanted to kill Section 230. That move represented a significant flip flop where many expected the FCC to take a hands off approach thanks to the repeal. Ultimately, the two moves combined made the FCC a hostile force against the Internet as a whole.
Early reports suggested that Jessica Rosenworcel and Edward “Smitty” Smith were top contenders for the role of FCC chairperson. Now, we are learning that Rosenworcel now has the job as acting FCC chairperson. From NBC:
President Joe Biden has picked Jessica Rosenworcel to run the Federal Communications Commission as its acting chair, making the 49-year-old lawyer and podcast host from West Hartford, Connecticut, the second woman to be appointed to that role in the commission’s 96-year history. The job involves such daunting tasks as helping millions of Americans get reliable access to the internet.
Rosenworcel, aleady a member of the commission, is not only the second woman to lead the FCC (the first, Mignon Clyburn, served for nearly 6 months as interim chair, in 2013), she is also the first mother to lead the agency. She has two school-aged children, and when she’s not crafting the nation’s tech and media laws, she’s trying to ensure that her kids are doing their school work remotely during the pandemic.
Rosenworcel first came to the FCC over 20 years ago in 1999, before leaving the agency to be a congressional aide in 2007, as senior communications counsel for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In 2012, she returned to the FCC, where she was appointed to be a commissioner under President Barack Obama. She was renominated in 2017 by President Donald Trump while the FCC was led by Chairman Ajit Pai during his historic undoing of the country’s network neutrality protections.
Now, as the president’s choice to lead the agency, she’s likely to pick up the network neutrality baton again — which prohibited internet service providers from charging websites to reach users at faster speeds. When Chairman Tom Wheeler ran the agency under Obama, Rosenworcel boldly pushed him to create more aggressive network neutrality rules, a stance he eventually adopted and led to the network neutrality protections that were passed in 2015. And when Pai came to lead the agency with the intention to take a “weed wacker” to net neutrality in 2017, she didn’t sit quietly either.
“Let’s roar. Let’s make a ruckus. Let’s stop this plan in its tracks,” she tweeted in 2017, when Pai released his plan to rescind the net neutrality rules. Over 22 million comments were submitted to the agency in response to the removal of the internet traffic rules.
This is likely spectacular news for those who support network neutrality. During the debate on the lead up to the gutting of the law, the FCC solicited comments from the public. Opponents to the gutting of network neutrality flooded the form submission portion of the site and ultimately caused the website to crash. The message by the public in 2017 was overwhelmingly clear: do not repeal network neutrality.
That, of course, was not a response Pai was hoping for. To cover up what happened, the then Republican controlled FCC lied and said that the website was brought down by a DDOS attack. After substantial questioning and suspicion on the claim, the FCC later admitted that they were never hacked in the first place. Of course, all that didn’t stop Pai from gutting Section 230 anyway – much to the dismay of American’s.
So, for the overwhelming number of people who support network neutrality, this news will likely be very welcome. The prospect of network neutrality rules finally returning will spell relief that fast lanes and some forms of blocking will finally be coming to an end.
Still, the damage done by the FCC under Pai was immense. It sent a message that said that even though things like the network neutrality debate are settled, it will never be fully settled. As long as someone with an ax to grind can get in to the FCC and head it up, those network neutrality rules may never be totally safe. Still, like so many other nominations being made by president Biden, this nomination does represent a return to sanity.