Digital rights and other progressive groups on Thursday hailed President Joe Biden's choice of Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the Federal Communications Commission into a new era of consumer advocacy following four years of former Chairman Ajit Pai's corporate-friendly stewardship.
"As we confront the pandemic, economic crisis, and the urgent need for racial justice, we need equitable access to reliable communications tools and accurate news and information."
—Jessica J. González,
Biden's appointment of Rosenworcel as acting FCC chair follows eight years of commission service beginning in the Obama administration. During her tenure she proved a reliable defender of increasing internet access for underserved populations, net neutrality, and treating the internet as a public utility, and a staunch opponent of corporate consolidation.
Rosenworcel's positions often stood in stark contrast with those of Pai, who was designated FCC chairman by former President Donald Trump in January 2017 and who led the repeal of net neutrality, the approval of the T-Mobile-Sprint megamerger—for which he was accused of betraying the public interest in service of major corporations—and other controversial policies.
— Free Press (@freepress) January 21, 2021
Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, bid Pai farewell in November by predicting he "will go down in history as one of the most corrupt government officials of the century."
"His callous attack on net neutrality and blatant coddling of Big Telecom monopolies sparked the largest cross-partisan online backlash in the modern era," said Greer. "As he fades into the background, his smug demeanor and giant Reese's mug will become cautionary memes—reminding internet users what happens when we don't hold our government accountable."
Fight for the Future, on the other hand, welcomed the news of Rosenworcel's appointment, while urging Biden to "nominate another net neutrality champion... so the FCC can get back to work ensuring affordable access to the open internet in the midst of a pandemic."
Great. Now we need Biden to nominate another #netneutrality champion and the Senate to move quickly to confirm them so the FCC can get back to work ensuring affordable access to the open Internet in the midst of a pandemic. https://t.co/PyiiuEhc0n
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) January 21, 2021
Michael Copps, a former FCC Commissioner and current special adviser to the nonpartisan government reform group Common Cause, called Rosenworcel "ideal for the job."
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"I know, because we worked together when she led my staff while I was a Commissioner there," Copps said in a statement.
She knows the FCC from the bottom up and she understands how to make good things happen there. She... has demonstrated a mastery of the issues that has been seldom matched. Whether it's bringing broadband to every home in America, encouraging internet availability for our schools, making wise decisions for the utilization of spectrum, contesting telecom and media monopolies, [or] battling mis- and dis-information, she has a combination of vision and practicality that make her perfect for the chairmanship. She is a true advocate of the public interest.
Jessica J. González, co-CEO of the media democracy group Free Press, also welcomed Rosenworcel's appointment in a statement. It read, in part:
As we confront the pandemic, economic crisis, and the urgent need for racial justice, we need equitable access to reliable communications tools and accurate news and information. We look forward to working with acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel on restoring the commission's Title II authority under the Communications Act and opening up opportunities to finally end the digital divide, ensure reliable access to the internet, and reinstate nondiscrimination policies like net neutrality.
We also hope to work closely on efforts to expand ownership and viewpoint diversity in the broadcast sector, and ensure that broadcasters are serving the public interest.
In a statement, Rosenworcel said she was "honored" to have been chosen to head the FCC and that she would work to "expand the reach of communications opportunity in the digital age."
Today @POTUS designated me Acting Chairwoman of the @FCC. I am honored and excited to lead this great agency. Now more than ever we need to expand the reach of communications opportunity for all of us. We have a lot of work to do and I can't wait to get started.
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) January 21, 2021
Although Democrats—who now control the White House and both branches of Congress—intend to restore net neutrality, expand broadband subsidies, and pursue other popular policies, Rosenworcel will likely face serious challenges in doing so until Biden nominates a third Democrat to the commision and they are confirmed by the Senate. It is not clear when that will happen; nor is it known whether Rosenworcel will remain as FCC chair in a permanent capacity.