News

FCC Nominees Embraced on Hill

12/05/2011 8:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Democratic and Republican
nominees for the Federal Communications Commission
spent a lot of time last week talking in near
lockstep, though their lawyerly answers were more
part of the rhetorical kabuki dance of the confirmation
process rather than any political meeting of the
minds.

The Senate Commerce Committee held a confi rmation
hearing last Thursday (Dec. 1) for the prospective
commissioners, Ajit Pai (Republican) and
Jessica Rosenworcel (Democrat).

They faced senators who generally signaled they
thought them well-qualified, thoughtful and capable,
suggesting their chances for confirmation were
good.

The senator in
the wings who
threaten s to
block their otherwise
smooth
path to confirmation
is Sen.
Charles Grassley
(R-Iowa). He
is not a member
of the committee.
But he’s
unhappy that
the FCC has, as
yet, not provided
documents
he has sought
about the commission’s
grant
of a waiver for
LightSquared’s wholesale broadband-wireless network.

“My intention to place a hold on the FCC nominees,
should they reach the floor, stands,” Grassley said.

Pai would replace Meredith Attwell Baker, who
left the agency last spring to join Comcast. Rosenworcel
would succeed her old boss, Michael Copps,
who has to exit at the end of the current Congress,
which likely means no later than the beginning of
January. (See Copps’ exit interview in Rules.)

Rosenworcel, the senior communications counsel
to the commerce committee, and Pai, an attorney
with Jenner & Block and a former FCC attorney
and Senate staffer, gave careful answers to questions
that were often an effort by senators to get
them on the record on issues or get them to commit
to follow up on their particular concerns.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made the nominees state
for the record that they did not support reimposition
of the fairness doctrine. That is a sort of Republican
litmus test that has survived even the FCC’s recent
expunging of the rule from the books, something Pai
pointed out in his answer.

Both nominees agreed with Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-
S.C.) that video regulations needed reviewing.

Rosenworcel and Pai agreed that the FCC and
the National Telecommunications & Information
Administration — which oversees government
spectrum users
— needed to coordinate
more
closely over spectrum
issues.

Pai said he
would not have
any conflicts of
interest or need
to recuse himself
over work at Jenner
& Block.

They diverged
slightly over the
issue of how specific to particular
deals FCC merger
conditions should
be. Rosenworcel
said that conditions
should at
least have a rational relationship to the merger-specific harms being redressed. Pai said that he would
want any conditions to be strictly merger-specific.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) spent the final few
minutes of the hearing talking about his concerns
over TV and Internet content, which he said has
coarsened, and its impact on children. Both agreed
that the commission had a responsibility to help parents
by providing them with the tools to protect their
children.

Pai said that, as a new parent, he was concerned
about the images his son sees and words he hears
on any media, radio, TV or smartphones. Rosenworcel
said it was incumbent upon the FCC “and
all of us” to foster quality content, “the good stuff ”
for kids.