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Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head

Industry reacts to the appointments of Rosenworcel as first permanent woman chair, Sohn as first openly gay commissioner.

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Gigi Sohn is officially appointed as Federal Communications Commissioner.

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 – After nine months as interim chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House announced Tuesday that it intends to nominate Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency’s permanent head, becoming the first full-time woman in that position.

Rosenworcel will be flanked by former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn, long speculated as a frontrunner for the top job, to be the crucial party tie-breaking fifth — and first openly gay – commissioner on the agency, the White House also announced Tuesday. Alan Davidson, a former director of public policy at Google, has also been nominated as the assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce, making him the head of the agency.

The positions must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenworcel said in a statement that she is “deeply humbled” by the announcement and congratulated Sohn and Davidson on their selections. “It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the agency’s talented staff to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work, and learn in the digital age,” she said.

In a tweet, Sohn said she is “deeply honored to be nominated by [Biden] to serve as FCC Commissioner. If confirmed, I’ll work to fulfill his goal of ensuring that every household in the US has robust broadband internet. Congratulations to [Rosenworcel] on her ascension to Chair – well deserved!”

Observers had speculated that a delay in making these nominations could hamper the Democratic party’s broadband policy agenda. The wait caused enough concern for educational institutions and senators representing 17 states to write letters urging Biden to nominate Rosenworcel. Even former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, said he was perplexed by the delay in Rosenworcel’s nomination.

Industry praise

Companies and industry association came out to praise the nominations as important steps forward to complete a commission that has before it an ambitious agenda to provide universal access to high-speed internet across the country.

“Having a fully staffed Commission will allow the fast paced communications industry to more quickly deliver results to American consumers,” said the Rural Wireless Association in a statement, which praised the nominations. “Rosenworcel has been a good steward as Acting Chair these past 9 months, and for over 30 years, Gigi Sohn has relentlessly served the public interest and kept Big Tech in check.”

Adrianne Furniss, the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society for which Sohn is currently a senior fellow, said in a statement that Sohn is “not only a broadband and telecommunications policy expert, but is expert at mastering complex policy issues, bringing disparate voices together to find common purpose, and pursuing the public interest.

“I’ve seen firsthand how effective she is as a leader who identifies, organizes, and partners with public interest groups; philanthropy; bipartisan federal, state, and local representatives; academics; and companies large and small,” Furniss added.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the commission at full strength “is important as issues from net neutrality to spectrum to the expansion of high speed broadband access are more necessary than ever as more people rely on internet connectivity during the pandemic…Having a seasoned DC veteran lead the NTIA will further help the administration advance its goals toward 5G and better internet connectivity.”

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said in a statement that each of the three nominees “brings into these core positions years of experience, deep connections, and legal and administrative know-how,” adding the commission will finally be operating at full capacity to “benefit American consumers, our economy, as well as those who linger without competitive and evolving broadband solutions in the digital divide.”

The Internet Innovation Alliance said in a statement that Rosenworcel has “proven time and again that she is an astute and balanced decisionmaker who is highly capable of bringing forward-looking policy prescriptions to the Commission and serving the best interests of the American people.” The association also had high praise for Sohn as “well-qualified and respected,” bringing years of policy and consumer advocacy” to the agency.

Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA Internet and Television Association, congratulated the nominees and for Rosenworcel’s work during the pandemic, stating that the three will now play a crucial role in policy design to “promote continued investment and innovation in wired and wireless broadband networks – including the growth of licensed and unlicensed platforms – and in supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next generation networks in unserved and underserved areas.”

USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said of Davidson’s nomination that Biden “has nominated a person with a range of technology and innovation experience, and a perspective that crosses the public, private and non-profit spheres.”

Joan Marsh, executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, highlighted in a congratulatory statement Rosenworcel’s accomplishments on programs including the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Emergency Connectivity Fund. She also noted Sohn’s “significant experience in the telecom policy arena.

“We look forward to working with her and her colleagues as the agency addresses the many pressing issues before it,” the statement added.

Noah Campbell, co-founder and CEO of telecom RS Access, which has been fighting to have the 12 GHz spectrum shared between satellite and 5G mobile service providers, said Rosenworcel has shown “tremendous leadership by bringing hundreds of megahertz of 5G spectrum to market in her roles at the FCC. She has been a staunch advocate for freeing more mid-band spectrum, while delivering on the promise to connect all Americans and close the digital divide.” He also congratulated Sohn and praised her commitment to public service.

Some background on nominees

Rosenworcel, a lawyer by training and graduate of New York University School of Law, would come into the helm as a long-time FCC veteran, having served as commissioner since her nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2011, and before that an advisor to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. During this time, she voted in favor of net neutrality rules, which have been quashed under previous agency head Ajit Pai and will serve as one of the most potent issues to review by this new-look commission.

Rosenworcel has also pressed national security issues to the front, having taken action on suspected threats to the country’s networks by proposing to ban licenses to companies with ties to the Chinese Communist government. She has advocated to diversify radio technology equipment by advocating for more open technologies for lower cost and better security.

Sohn, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. Beside her advocacy work at the Benton Institute, she was also for 12 years the president and CEO of internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, before becoming counselor to the chairman of the FCC in 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has also held fellowship positions at the Open Society Foundations and the Mozilla Foundation.

Davidson, a graduate of Yale Law School, was in the early 2000s a professor at Georgetown University and director of public policy for the Americas at Google in Washington D.C. He served director of digital economy at the Department of Commerce, as vice president and director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and as tech policy fellow and then senior advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, according to his LinkedIn page.

Managing Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.

FCC

FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection

The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.

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Photo of people working on computers, cropped, in 2011 by Victor Grigas

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.

The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.

The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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FCC

FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says

‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via fcc.gov

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.

The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.

The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform[] existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.

“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.

“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.

The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.

In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.

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