Obama names FCC commissioners, both agency, Hill veterans

President Obama on Monday nominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Varadaraj Pai to the Federal Communications Commission, bringing relatively young but experienced telecom policy experts to an agency trying to redefine itself in the Internet age.

Both FCC nominees are well known for their experience on Capitol Hill and as legal advisors at the agency.

Rosenworcel serves a a senior staffer to the Senate Commerce Committee. She has worked for the committee’s chairman, Sen. John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-WV.) since 2009 and has taken the lead on legislative proposal to bolster spectrum used by public safety and the private sector. She will replace current Democrat Michael J. Copps, whom she previously served as an advisor, as his tenure ends this year.

“Her experience here, combined with her current Congressional work, give her a perspective on telecom and media issues both wide and deep,” Copps said in a statement. “Her dedication, intelligence, and practical good judgment make her an ideal choice for commissioner.”

Pai is a partner in the litigation practice of law firm Jenner & Block. Previously, he served in the office of general counsel at the FCC for former chairman Kevin Martin. He has served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and property rights. He will fill an empty seat created when Republican Meredith Attwell Baker resigned to join Comcast last spring.

Copps also lauded Pai for his experience and ability to navigate different topics deftly.

Both Rosenworcel and Pai have long been rumored as candidates at the FCC.

Their nominations will go before the Senate for confirmation. That could be within weeks, experts say.

If approved, they will become commissioners on the five-member agency as the FCC transitions its policies away from legacy telecom services and into broadband Internet communications.

Last week it voted to transform a $4.5 billion federal fund for traditional phone service into a program that doles out money to private firms to bring broadband service to rural areas.

Chairman Julius Genachowski is working to create voluntary auctions of broadcast airwaves to create more spectrum for mobile broadband.

But the agency is also facing legal challenges on some of its efforts, most notably its controversial net neutrality rule approved last December. The regulation has drawn lawsuits by Verizon Communications and Metro PCS, who say the FCC overstepped its mission by creating rules for how Internet service providers treat the delivery of content on their networks. Public interest group Free Press filed a separate suit saying the rules don’t go far enough and that the FCC needs to make the regulation broader to include wireless Internet service providers.

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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