News

Obama Fills Out FCC at Key Time

11/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — President Obama has nominated Democrat
Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai to join
the Federal Communications Commission, signaling that
the White House wants to try and make sure the agency
is not reduced to a trio of commissioners when Michael
Copps exits at the end of the year.

Rosenworcel, the Senate Commerce Committee’s senior
communications counsel, and Pai, a former top FCC
adviser, had been the leading candidates for two empty
FCC seats, one vacated by Republican Meredith Attwell
Baker earlier this year and another that will be vacated
by the departure of Copps, a
Democrat.

Filling one Republican vacancy
and one Democratic
vacancy-to-be won’t change
the balance of the commission,
which will go from a 3-1
Democratic majority to a 3-2
majority. But with broadband
adoption and deployment as
national priorities, a decision
not to act on what could
have been two empty chairs
by year-end might have sent
the wrong signal about the
priority of having a full complement
of commissioners to
deal with that issue.

BIG DEAL PENDING

It could also allow the new
FCC members to get up to speed on the vetting of the
merger of wireless providers AT&T and T-Mobile USA,
which also has implications for wireless broadband buildouts.

Rosenworcel and Pai should have a short learning
curve.

Rosenworcel will be succeeding her old boss. She was
a legal adviser on competition and Universal Service
Fund reform and then senior legal adviser to Copps before
leaving the FCC in March 2007, to join the powerful
Senate Commerce Committee as a top communications
aide to Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.).

Before advising Copps, she was an FCC staffer, having
served as legal counsel to the bureau chief of the Common
Carrier bureau, so she is well versed in the broadband
and USF 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. “Her dedication,
intelligence, and practical good judgment make
her an ideal choice for commissioner.”

Before joining FCC staff in 1999, Rosenworcel was with
law firm Drinker Biddle. She is a 1997 graduate of New York
University Law School.

Pai joined law firm Jenner & Block in April 2011 from the
FCC where, since 2007, he had been deputy general counsel,
associate general counsel and special adviser to the
general counsel. FCC general counsel Austin Schlick said
he was unable to comment for this story.

Before joining the FCC in 2007 under then-chairman
Kevin Martin, Pai’s resume 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, where he
served as lead counsel on Supreme Court nominations.
He was associate general counsel at Verizon Communications
from 2001 to 2003.

‘SHEET-ROCK’ PROVENANCE

His Jenner & Block bio touts his victory over the cable
industry in NCTA vs. the FCC, the so-called “Sheetrock”
inside-wiring case, in which the court upheld
the FCC’s decision that cable companies must provide
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
nomination, but did confirm that his bio
did refer to the “Sheetrock” case.

So, should cable operators worry
about the return of an FCC Republican
akin to former chairman Kevin Martin
— one who’ll wind up bashing the industry?
No, said one veteran cable attorney,
who pointed out that Jenner &
Block has a number of cable clients at
the FCC — Cablevision Systems and
Charter Communications among them
— and added he did not think Pai was
“at all anti-cable.”

Pai was a candidate for the Republican
seat in 2009 that ultimately went to
Baker. Her exit last summer for Comcast
— she actually didn’t join the company until last month
— opened the door for Pai once again.

As the picks of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) and Rockefeller, the pair had been expected
to be paired and submittted for Senate consideration by
the end of the year.

That confirmation is expected to go relatively smoothly,
with a hearing expected within the next several weeks.
“Chairman Rockefeller 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.

In a custom that began during the Clinton administration,
the president typically accepts the recommendations
of leading Democratic and Republican legislators, in this
case the chair of the Commerce Committee, which oversees
the FCC, and the Senate minority leader.

“I am confident that these outstanding men and women
will greatly serve the American people in their new roles and
I look forward to working with them in the months and years
ahead,” Obama said in announcing the nominations.

September
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