Dems Urge Obama to Choose Experience Over Seniority in Naming Next FCC Chair

Matt Cover | April 3, 2013 | 9:49am EDT
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Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of FCC)

( – Thirty-seven Democratic senators have written a letter to President Obama urging him to nominate current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to succeed outgoing Chairman Julius Genachowski.

In the letter drafted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) – chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee – the Democratic senators urge President Obama to nominate Rosenworcel, a former committee staffer and the junior Democrat on the commission.

“We write to urge you to give serious consideration to nominating Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel…to be the agency’s first Chairwoman,” Rockefeller wrote.

The letter notes Rosenworcel’s experience as a lawyer for the committee – which has jurisdiction over the FCC – and her experience as a staffer at the commission itself, saying that she “demonstrates deep knowledge” of communications issues.

It also notes that by choosing a sitting FCC Commissioner, Obama could forgo the Senate confirmation process, something Rockefeller said could prove problematic for “other nominees.”

Rosenworcel is the junior Democrat on the five-member FCC – having served less than a year on the commission. She is out-ranked by Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is currently serving her second term at FCC but who lacks Rosenworcel’s federal communications policy experience.

If Obama picked Rosenworcel instead of Clyburn, it would be the first time a junior commissioner leap-frogged a more senior commissioner to ascend to the chairmanship.

Clyburn is the daughter of House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and would be the first black FCC chair in history, as well as the first woman to chair the commission.

Signatories to the letter include several female senators, including Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.).

Genachowski, chairman since 2009, announced March 22 that he will be stepping down later this year in the middle of several wide-reaching initiatives at the FCC.

Among those endeavors are a plan to open up high-value airwaves – called spectrum by the FCC – to mobile phone companies to enable the expansion of high-speed mobile broadband, and a broad initiative to possibly regulate the internet itself.

Rockefeller noted in his letter that Commissioner Rosenworcel “understands and respects the relationship between the FCC and Congress,” adding that she is “very cognizant of the fact that as an independent agency, Congress defines the limits of the FCC’s authority and jurisdiction.”

Many critics of FCC-led internet regulation – as well as Genachowski’s signature Open Internet Order – have charged that the commission overstepped its authority by claiming that the internet is a telecommunications service – which the FCC can regulate – instead of an information service, a designation that would require congressional action to regulate further.

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