Below please find excerpts from an interview with Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel published by The Information. Read the full story

Net Neutrality

Rosenworcel believes it’s obvious why the rules need reviving. With many spots of the U.S. still dependent on one or two ISPs, she says, “it’s a given that they should not be blocking websites or throttling services.” What’s more, she says, the FCC needs the powers necessary to play a powerful role in how internet connectivity operates in this country. She points out that when natural disasters strike, the agency lacks the authority to collect key, real-time data on broadband outages. In a modern economy, Rosenworcel argues, “that’s retrograde and crazy.”

When we talk, I note that in the six years since we haven’t seen cases of ISPs egregiously throttling content or, say, blocking websites. She sees that as no vindication of the anti-neutrality case. Both the pro-neutrality rules based by states like California and Washington and the predictable prospect of a Democrat-led FCC bringing back the old rules have, she argues, thus far acted as a “disciplining force.”

But, she says, that’s hardly a long-term solution. Nor is it one that sufficiently appreciates both how central a role broadband internet will play in the future of the U.S. and the need for broadband to have a guiding hand from the FCC.

Broadband is a form of communications “every single one of us needs for modern life,” she says. “The nation’s communications regulator should not be limited to overseeing long-distance voice service. It’s not 1989.”

Space Innovation

“The thing about this agency that is so neat is that you sit here and you say, ‘What’s the future of communications?’” Later, she adds, “you plot yourself 10 years in the future and ask yourself, ‘What do you need to develop now to make sure that future happens?’”

She’s committed, she says, to making sure the federal government meets that future head on. She brings up the explosive growth of the satellite industry in the U.S. At the moment, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 satellites in the sky; pending before the FCC are applications for about seven times that number…

…Under her guidance, the FCC passed rules requiring that companies dispose of satellites five years after completion of their requiring that companies dispose of satellites five years after completion of their missions. “Gotta be mindful that we can junk up the future for everyone,” she says, “or we can start to be responsible stewards of the skies.”

To that end, at the start of 2023, she and her colleagues pushed through a new addition to the agency’s lineup of seven main organizational units: a Space Bureau. It took some heavy lifting with the agency’s union and represented a bit of a jurisdictional marking of territory—the FCC competes with the Defense Department and others in Washington over who gets the final say over the country’s skies. At the same time, the creation of the Space Bureau represented a bipartisan victory. Nathan Simington, one of the commission’s two Republican commissioners, in a speech to the conservative Hudson Institute this spring said Rosenworcel “took a bold step in the creation of the Space Bureau, and was right to do it.”

Digital Discrimination

One heated recent fight was over Rosenworcel’s push for the commission to adopt new rules on digital discrimination—unequal access to online services based on race, religion and other attributes—in fulfillment of a pledge in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by Biden in 2021. Republicans howled that the chair, in choosing to define discrimination as not only deliberately targeted disparate treatment of online customers, but any actions that could have a similar—if unintended—impact on those customers, was far overreaching what Congress had intended. The move, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R.-Texas, and 27 of his colleagues in a pointed letter to Rosenworcel, “will create crippling uncertainty for the U.S. broadband industry.”

When we speak, Rosenworcel offers a strong defense of the approach, pointing to segregation in the U.S. housing market as an example of the lasting negative effects of even unintentional disparities in how Americans get access to goods and services. When it comes to cutting-edge broadband hookups, she says, the U.S. has “gotta make sure everyone gets upgrades.”

Friday, January 19, 2024