President Joe Biden has appointed Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the Federal Communications Commission until an official chair is confirmed. Rosenworcel is the second woman to lead the agency as acting chair.
Rosenworcel was first nominated to the FCC by President Barack Obama and served from May 2012 to January 2017. She was later confirmed for an additional term in August 2017 where she currently serves as the most senior Democratic commissioner at the FCC. Over the course of her tenure at the FCC, Rosenworcel voted to impose and maintain net neutrality and pushed to close what she’s called the “homework gap,” an effort to extend broadband to every child in the country.
“I am honored to be designated as the Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden,” Rosenworcel said in a statement Thursday. “I thank the President for the opportunity to lead an agency with such a vital mission and talented staff. 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.”
Over the last few weeks, advocacy groups have been pushing the incoming Biden administration to nominate Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks as the next FCC chair. Biden has focused on appointing diverse members to serve in his cabinet and agencies.
“Starks has demonstrated and recently reaffirmed his commitment to digital equity through Net Neutrality and Title II, broadband expansion via the Lifeline program, and expanding the FCC’s E-rate program to ensure children have the access they need for online learning,” Rashad Robinson, Color of Change president, said in a statement last week. “The pandemic has underscored the reality that internet access is a clear equity issue — failing to meet this fact with policy will leave Black people behind.”
After Democrats took control of the Senate due to huge wins in the Georgia runoff elections, Biden has a better chance at quickly confirming whomever he chooses to lead the agency. According to Bloomberg Law, Democrats plan to reinstate net neutrality and expand broadband subsidies. The coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on broadband disparity in the US, and Bloomberg said that Democrats at the FCC plan to move quickly in order to extend new funding for schools to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops for students.
Still, Rosenworcel may have difficulty pushing forward on the Biden administration’s agenda until the president’s third Democrat is confirmed in the Senate. It’s unclear who Biden will appoint to create a Democratic majority and whether that person would take over chairmanship once confirmed.
Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stepped down on Wednesday after announcing his plan to retire from the agency late last year. In his departing remarks, Pai said: “Serving the American people as Chairman of the FCC has been the greatest honor of my professional life.”