Biden Names Jessica Rosenworcel Permanent FCC Chair, First Woman to Hold Role

President also nominates Gigi Sohn as commissioner to give Democrats majority at agency

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission, testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, September 15, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

President Biden on Tuesday officially designated Jessica Rosenworcel, who has been acting FCC chair since January, to be the permanent head of the telecommunications agency.

Rosenworcel, if she’s confirmed, would be the first woman to serve as FCC chair. In addition, Biden nominated Gigi Sohn, a longtime public advocate for open and affordable telecom services and former FCC staffer, to fill the vacant commissioner post at the agency. If she is confirmed, Sohn would be the first openly LGBTIQ+ commissioner in the FCC’s history.

The appointments would give Democrats a 3-2 advantage among FCC commissioners. Both Rosenworcel and Sohn are net neutrality supporters, indicating the agency will move forward to restore the FCC’s Open Internet order that was revoked under the Trump administration.

Among other appointments, Biden nominated Mozilla Foundation adviser Alan Davidson to be assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Dept.’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Kathi Vidal, currently managing partner of Winston & Strawn’s Silicon Valley office, to be under secretary for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Rosenworcel, who has served as an FCC commissioner since 2012, has worked to “promote greater opportunity, accessibility and affordability in our communications services in order to ensure that all Americans get a fair shot at 21st century success,” the White House said in announcing her appointment as agency chair. While Rosenworcel would be the first woman to serve as permanent chair, former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn briefly served as acting chair in 2013 under President Obama.

In addition to her support for net neutrality, Rosenworcel, 50, during her tenure at the FCC has led efforts to expand broadband access to poor and rural communities and students, as well as fought to combat illegal robocalls and enhance consumer protections. Prior to joining the FCC, Rosenworcel served as senior communications counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, under the leadership of Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV and Daniel Inouye. Before entering public service, she practiced communications law.

“I am deeply humbled to be designated as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “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.”

Sohn, for her part, most recently served as distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy and a senior fellow and public advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. From 2013-16, she served as counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, and from 2001-13 was co-founder and CEO of Public Knowledge, a communications and technology policy advocacy organization.

Industry trade groups weighed in on the appointments, and — as is generally the case — commended the nominees and expressed optimism of working with them to achieve their policy aims.

“To date, Chairwoman Rosenworcel has served with distinction and ably led the Commission over the past 10 months as the country increasingly turned to the internet to adapt to pandemic demands,” Michael Powell, president/CEO of NCTA – the Internet & Television Assn., said in a statement. “We also congratulate Gigi Sohn and Alan Davidson on their nominations to serve as FCC Commissioner and NTIA Administrator.” The officials, If confirmed by the Senate, will play key roles including “supporting Congress’ clear direction to build next-generation networks in unserved and underserved areas,” Powell added.

NAB president/CEO Gordon Smith congratulated both Rosenworcel and Sohn on their nominations, adding, “We look forward to working with the full Commission on how the FCC can ensure a thriving local broadcast industry.”

MPA chairman/CEO Charles Rivkin commented on Vidal’s appointment at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “We look forward to continuing to work with the USPTO to ensure the continued success of the creative community and the strength of America’s copyright, trademark, and patent systems,” Rivkin said in a statement. “Intellectual property fuels the world’s most successful creative community, and we look forward to Ms. Vidal’s confirmation to lead this critical agency.”