White House Picks Its FCC CommissionersServes up Rosenworcel and Pai for Senate vetting; approval expected 11/07/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
President Barack Obama has nominated Jessica Rosenworcel
and Ajit Pai to be the next commissioners on the Federal
Communications Commission, signaling that the White House
wants to make sure the FCC is not reduced to a trio when Democratic
commissioner Michael Copps exits at the end of the year.
Rosenworcel, the Senate Commerce senior communications counsel, and
Pai, a former top FCC adviser, had been the leading candidates for the empty
FCC seat vacated by Republican Meredith Attwell Baker (Pai had been
the choice for this one) and the vacancy
that will be created by Copps’ departure.
Confirmation is expected to go relatively
smoothly, with a hearing likely to
be set within the next several weeks. Senate
Commerce Committee chairman Jay
Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) “is well aware of
the importance of filling these key seats at
the FCC and will schedule a hearing for
the nominees as soon as possible,” said a
committee aide on background.
Filling one Republican vacancy and
one Democratic vacancy-to-be won’t
change the balance of the agency, which
will go from a 3-1 Democratic majority
to a 3-2 majority, but with broadband adoption and deployment a national
priority, not trying to do wo on what would have been two empty chairs by
year-end could have sent the wrong signal about the priority of having a full
complement of commissioners to deal with that issue. The full house could
now also lead the commission to get up to speed on the AT&T/T-Mobile
deal vetting, which has implications for wireless broadband buildouts.
For their part, Rosenworcel and Pai will have a short learning curve.
Rosenworcel will be succeeding her old boss. She was a legal advisor
on competition and Universal Service, and then senior legal advisor to
Copps before exiting in March 2007 to join the Senate Commerce Committee
as a top communications advisor to Rockefeller. Before advising
Copps, she was an FCC staffer, with responsibilities including legal
counsel to the bureau chief of the Common Carrier bureau. Rosenworcel
is, therefore, well-versed in the broadband and Universal Service reform
issues the FCC is currently focused on.
“Her experience here, combined with her current Congressional
work, give her a perspective on telecom and media issues both wide and
deep,” Copps said last week. “Her dedication, intelligence and practical
good judgment make her an ideal choice for commissioner.”
Before joining the FCC in 1999, Rosenworcel—a 1997 graduate of New
York University Law School—was with the law firm Drinker Biddle.
Beginning in 2007, Pai served as deputy general counsel, associate
general counsel, and special advisor to the general counsel at the FCC.
He joined the law firm Jenner & Block in April 2011. (Austin Schlick,
FCC general counsel, was not available for comment.)
Before joining the FCC in 2007 under then-chairman Kevin Martin,
Pai’s résumé included deputy chief
counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
Subcommittee on Administrative
Oversight and the Courts (2003-2004)
and senior counsel in the Justice Department’s
Office of Legal Policy. Between
2005 and 2007, Pai was chief counsel
to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee
on the Constitution, Civil
Rights and Property Rights, including
lead counsel on Supreme Court nominations.
He was associate general counsel
at Verizon from 2001 to 2003.
Pai’s Jenner & Block bio touts his victory
over the cable industry in NCTA
vs. the FCC, the so-called “sheet rock” case. The Court of Appeals upheld
the FCC’s decision that “cable companies must supply competitive
service providers with alternative access points to multichannel and
broadband wiring inside apartments, condos and other multiple-dwelling
units and office buildings when the wires are behind sheet-rock
walls.” Pai said he could not comment on his FCC nomination, but he
confirmed it was the “sheet rock” case his bio referred to.
So, should cable operators worry about the return of a Kevin Martin FCC
Republican, one who wound up bashing the cable industry? Not according
to one veteran cable attorney, who pointed out that Jenner & Block has
a number of cable clients at the FCC—Cablevision and Charter among
them—and added that he does not think Pai is “at all anti-cable.”
Pai was a candidate for the Republican FCC seat in 2009, which ultimately
went to Baker. Her exit last summer for Comcast—she actually didn’t
join the company until September—opened the door for Pai once again.
As the picks of Republican Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) and Rockefeller,
the pair had been expected to be submitted for Senate consideration by
the end of the year.