Jessica Rosenworcel appears to face little opposition after appearing Wednesday in front of the Senate Commerce Committee which is considering her nomination to lead the Federal Communications Commission. If anything, there was more annoyance with the Biden administration for not sending her nomination to Congress sooner.
“My only frustration with Commissioner Rosenworcel’s nomination is that it was not done in March. This was long overdue and we're going to see with a strong bipartisan vote that this should have been done months ago,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).
During the three-hour hearing, media-related issues were largely on the sidelines. But when they did surface, they were largely framed in the context of the state of news coverage as Senators look for ways to offset what many believe is the spread of misinformation by the giant social media platforms. Rosenworcel agreed radio and TV could play a role.
“It’s really important for our democracy that we all get the news that we need to make decisions about the communities where we live. That goes to the heart of spectrum licenses for broadcasting, because the duty under law is for those licensees to serve the community that they’re in,” said Rosenworcel. “The FCC over time is going to have to figure out more ways to encourage them to use that license to truly serve that community because that is a resource we have for news in the world today and we have to make sure that we support it.”
“We all need local journalism to make decisions about our lives, communities and country. Yet over the last decade and a half, nearly 2,000 newspapers have shuttered and it’s getting harder and harder to find economic models that give us the news we need,” she said. “The tax credits that [are] involved with payroll or the production of local news journalism are essential for its future.”
Rosenworcel also reiterated her previous support for revival of the minority tax certificate program that would give tax breaks to broadcasters that sell stations to new entrants. Legislation is currently pending in both the House and Senate and she said it would be a “beneficial way” to encourage small businesses and people of color to take over ownership of local radio and television stations. “I think we’re going to need a whole lot of little tools to make that happen. There’s not one big single answer, but I think we have to invest in them because local journalism is so important,” she said.
Rosenworcel has been Acting FCC Chair since January, and she told lawmakers that her goal has been to work on a bipartisan basis. “So much about the last year has been new and complex as this strange virus has changed our lives. But it has also demonstrated with total clarity that we need modern communications to reach us all,” she said.
The hearing revealed what is likely to be an effort by Rosenworcel to reinstate net neutrality rules that regulated the internet as if it were a utility that were adopted in 2015 during the Obama administration only to be rolled back by the Trump FCC four years ago. She told Senators that she has made no secret of her support for the rules.
“I continue to support it,” said Rosenworcel. “The impact of the rollback in 2017 is broader than just net neutrality, because it took the FCC away from the oversight of broadband – and coming out of the pandemic, all of us know we need some oversight because it has become such an essential service for day to day life.”
President Biden’s other pick to fill a FCC vacancy, Gigi Sohn, was not part of Wednesday’s hearing. The Senate Commerce Committee expects she will be part of a Dec. 1 hearing. The delay was said to be in order to allow lawmakers to gather more information on Sohn. But by splitting her more controversial pick, Democrats hope to ensure a vote on Rosenworcel’s nomination occurs by year-end. She was previously approved on a bipartisan basis in 2017, and was unanimously approved by the Senate in 2012. If confirmed again, Rosenworcel, 50, would break ground by becoming the first woman to lead the FCC.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) urged Rosenworcel’s nomination be fast-tracked, pointing out that if she is not confirmed by year-end it would give the Republicans a 2-1 majority on the Commission. “This is not the time to leave the agency leader-less,” he said.