The president appoints the commissioners to five-year terms. The Senate must confirm nominees, and only three of the five commissioners may be of the same political party. Given the support of Senate leadership for both nominees, the process is expected to go smoothly, and both could be confirmed by the end of this month.
Rosenworcel has spent her political career working for Democrats and is considered sympathetic to chairman Genachowski’s position on issues such as net neutrality. Since 2009, she has worked for Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and was heavily involved in the formulation of the Committee’s spectrum legislation, which would authorize incentive auctions and re-allocate the D Block for the creation of a public safety network.
“I know first-hand what a gifted public servant Jessica Rosenworcel is because she worked in my office in a number of capacities, including senior Legal Adviser,” Copps said in a statement. “Her experience here, combined with her current Congressional work, give her a perspective on telecom and media issues both wide and deep.”
Rockefeller called Rosenworcel an “undisputed communications law expert” that has earned the respect of both Democrats and Republicans on the Commerce Committee.
“As Commissioner Copps once said when Jessica left the FCC to come to the Senate: ‘Their gain is my loss,’ and today, I couldn’t agree more,” Rockefeller said. “There is no better qualified person for this position.”
Pai has worked mostly for Republicans, but less is known about his leanings on key policy issues. He previous served in the FCC’s Office of General Counsel as deputy general counsel under chairman Kevin Martin and as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Civil Rights subpanel.
Stakeholders on both sides of the aisle consider him thoughtful and well versed in telecom policy. Copps credited Pai with providing “valuable counsel on many of the complex matters coming before the Commission” during his previous stint at the FCC.
“Ajit’s experience, both at the agency and on Capitol Hill, prepares him well for the many urgent telecom and media challenges confronting the Commission,” Copps added.
As the federal agency charged with regulating the nation’s communications networks, the FCC has been a policy battleground as the country shifts from legacy, wireline infrastructure to wireless networks.
The Commission has recently moved forward on several key proceedings, including a plan to shift the focus of the $4.5 billion high-cost portion of the Universal Service Fund from telephone to broadband expansion while reforming the intercarrier compensation system used to connect local calls.
The Commission's controversial net-neutrality rules are scheduled to take effect later this month and have already drawn legal challenges from both the right and the left, with Republicans arguing the FCC overstepped its authority to regulate the Web and others demanding the rules also apply to wireless firms.
The FCC is also reviewing the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA, though the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block the merger has temporarily taken that issue off the agency’s plate. Telecom observers say the Commission is unlikely to act until DOJ settles or completes its court case.
In the near-term, finding more spectrum to satisfy the public’s growing appetite for wireless services appears to be the Commission’s top priority. Legislation to authorize incentive auctions has met resistance from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which opposes D Block re-allocation.
The supercommittee is expected to take up the issue as both the White House and Congress have framed the auctions as a means to generate revenue. But the broadcasters are firmly opposed to any auctions that aren’t completely voluntary, and some question whether the auctions will free up enough airwaves, prompting calls for the government to relinquish some of its spectrum as part of any deal.