Alan Weissberger Regulatory

FCC Chair Pai resigns; who will succeed him?

FCC Chair Ajit Pai - image courtesy of the FCC.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai – image courtesy of the FCC.

Following today’s expected [1.] resignation of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, Washington insiders believe that President-elect Joe Biden will probably pick Democrat commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel [2.] to head the FCC. Rosenworcel has won confirmation twice, which will be helpful if Republicans retain control of the Senate.

Note 1.  FCC Chairmen typically exit the commission before a new president takes office or shortly thereafter.

Note 2.  Ms. Rosenworcel first served as an FCC commissioner between 2012 and 2017. She departed the commission at the beginning of 2017 after the Senate delayed confirming her nomination for a second term. She eventually rejoined the commission in August 2017, and has continued advocating for strong net neutrality protections as well as expanded broadband service for students to help close what she calls the Homework Gap, where children do not have internet at home.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel - Image courtesy of the FCC.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel – Image courtesy of the FCC.

“I think Jessica Rosenworcel probably has the best chance of becoming chair,” said John Orlando, former head of global government affairs at CBS. “The ease of her getting confirmed is far easier than anybody else.”

“Jessica Rosenworcel would make an excellent FCC Chair,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said. “She is a devoted public servant with a proven track record as a progressive voice on net neutrality, competition and consumer protections against robocalls. Jessica was looking for solutions to the ‘homework gap’ and expanding internet access to all students long before the COVID-19 pandemic brought these disparities into such stark relief. And if that all weren’t enough — she’s from Connecticut.”

Another possibility is Mignon Clyburn, who served on the commission from 2009-18. A former newspaper publisher, Clyburn is the daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, whose endorsement proved critical to Joe Biden’s win in the Democratic primary. Mignon Clyburn has been named to Biden’s transition team for the FCC.

Before Chairman Pai leaves the FCC, he’ll have one final issue to address. The FCC at its December 10th meeting will consider a “rip-and-replace” order. If passed, this would require all telecom network providers to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from their networks on the grounds their hardware represents national security threats.

Yet the most important issue for the new FCC Chair will certainly be net neutrality and data caps. Comcast, for example, will now put a 1.2TB monthly data cap on all its customers in early 2021.  Will the 2021 FCC accept that?

The Biden administration has said its goals for the FCC include making the internet more affordable and accessible to consumers.  Many experts believe the incoming administration also wants to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules and reclassify broadband internet as a Title II service, which would give the FCC more authority over carriers.

Opinion:  Under President-elect Joe Biden and a new FCC chair, net neutrality might return.  If so, then consumer and business users would hopefully get better, more fairly priced, and more broadly distributed internet.

In these COVID-19 mandated work from home/lockdowns, this author believes that everyone needs high-speed internet from the smallest home to the largest business.  That makes net neutrality more important than ever.

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

One reply on “FCC Chair Pai resigns; who will succeed him?”

“Net Neutrality” will probably get attention, but whether that should be the case or not is debatable. The Internet certainly didn’t fall apart when the rules were overturned and, in fact, has thrived. Speeds have continued to increase and the capacity was there to accommodate the unplanned shift to work from home. In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. did much better than Europe where they were talking about having to ration access to the Internet.

Anecdotally, in talking to the smaller, mostly rural ISPs, lifting those rules gave them more investment certainty. They have continued to invest in FTTH. Many electric cooperatives and WISPs have been expanding into or their existing footprints through various broadband solutions, including fixed wireless and FTTH.

It will be interesting to see if the Net Neutrality discussion expands to the social media companies, as they have been actively serving as gatekeepers (which Net Neutrality advocates feared ISPs would do).

Since my mind is here right now, I wonder what will happen with the C-Band auction given the revelation that those frequencies, used for 5G, could affect radar altimeters causing catastrophic results for aircraft.

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