Rosenworcel finally named FCC Chair

Nine months after taking over the Biden administration has finally got around to designating the acting Chair of the US telecoms regulator to the full position.

Jessica Rosenworcel has been an FCC Commissioner since 2012 and seems to have done a good job. In the politicised US system she has been one of two or three Democrat affiliated Commissioners, depending on which party holds the US Presidency. She was made acting Chair when the previous one – Ajit Pai – stepped down after the changing of the guard at the start of this year.

Why it’s taken nine months to complete the apparent formality of making the role permanent is unclear but here we are. Pai had also not been replaced as a Commissioner, leaving the FCC with four and a partisan dead heat. Gigi Sohn has been nominated to fill that vacancy, an experienced legal and technology professional who seems to have all the right experience. Inevitably she is Democrat affiliated so partisan order is restored to the regulator.

From the announcement: From 2013-2016, Gigi served as Counselor to Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and from 2001-2013 was Co-Founder and CEO of Public Knowledge, a leading communications and technology policy advocacy organization serving the interests of consumers. She was previously a Project Specialist in the Ford Foundation’s Media, Arts and Culture unit and Executive Director of the Media Access Project, a communications public interest law firm.

One of the things the FCC will resume obsessing about is the matter of net neutrality which, like nearly everything else in the US, seems to be split along partisan political lines. Democrat types reckon internet providers should be forced to provide the same service to everyone, while Republican types don’t see a problem with variable pricing for varying levels of service. What should be a commercial matter often gets conflated with civil rights and that sort of thing, so you can imagine how constructive the public debate on the matter is over there.

In other FCC news the regulator has just announced it’s banning China Telecom America from operating in the US. Given the years of hostility the US state has projected towards the Chinese telecoms sector it comes as a surprise that this decision is only being made now. But then again, the FCC has been understaffed for nearly a year. The reason is nothing new either, just that it can’t be trusted not to act in league with the Chinese state.

“When we recognize this is the case and cannot mitigate the risk, we need to take action to protect the communications infrastructure that is so critical to our national security and economic prosperity,” wrote Rosenworcel. “That is what we do here today. We take an important and necessary step to protect that infrastructure by revoking and terminating China Telecom Americas’ authority to provide interstate and international telecommunications services in the United States.”

Surely the FCC has been aware of that risk for years so it’s odd that the alarm bells are only now ringing out, but better late then never. In her long statement Rosenworcel even acknowledges that this threat to national security was flagged up to the FCC last year and the only mitigation she offers is that it took a while to complete the investigation. Apparently China Unicom is next in the cross-hairs, so expect it to be banned in a year or two.

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