Jessica Rosenworcel is a step closer to being confirmed as the next Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. On a bipartisan vote, the Senate Commerce Committee today (Dec. 1) voted to advance her nomination to the full Senate for approval. If confirmed, Rosenworcel would become the first woman to ever lead the FCC on a permanent basis.
“If confirmed, Jessica Rosenworcel will continue to lead the agency’s important work to ensure every American has access to reliable and affordable broadband. Having strong leadership at the helm to lead our broadband investments could not be more important,” said Committee Chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Ranking Republican Roger Wicker (R-MS) said he backed Rosenworcel’s bid, noting that while they did not see eye-to-eye on everything, her experience as Acting Chair since January demonstrated she was up to the job. “While I don’t always agree with her policy positions, she is well-known to the members of the Committee and has a reputation for being responsive and engaged,” said Wicker.
In a series of responses to written questions provided to the Senators ahead of the vote, Rosenworcel steered away from any radio-specific comments. More generally, she reiterated her previous statements opposing any attempts to regulate content on broadcast outlets. “FCC authority is limited by the First Amendment and Section 326 of the Communications Act,” she wrote.
In terms of media ownership, Rosenworcel also said she remains convinced that a single company should not be allowed to own more than one of the big four television networks. She said limits are also needed in other areas. “Competition is important in these markets because it helps ensure that a diversity of voices serve the community of license,” she told lawmakers.
Democrats are racing to get Rosenworcel’s confirmation finalized because her term expired in June 2020. Under federal law she is allowed to remain on the job only until year-end. After that, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks would become the lone Democrat at the FCC. While he would hold the gavel, Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington would have the voting power.
Even if Rosenworcel is seated, the FCC will continue to have a 2-2 deadlock until another Democratic seat is filled. The Senate Commerce Committee also heard testimony from Gigi Sohn on Wednesday, who is President Biden’s pick to fil the vacant seat. During what at times was heated questioning, Sohn said it was her longtime love of radio that has pushed her to advocate for stricter media ownership regulations. “My love of local broadcasting, and especially radio, led me to Boston University, where I studied communications law and policy,” she told Senators.
Sohn also said her previous statements criticizing conservative media outlets were part of her job working for a public advocacy group and that she believes she would be able to set them aside when dealing with issues that come before the Commission. Sohn said that she would also give the final word to FCC ethics attorneys on whether she would need to recuse herself from any proceeding that involved media issues.