The Federal Communications Commission could end up with only three members at the end of this year if the Obama administration and Congress fail to act to fill two open seats on the five-member panel.
The commission has had only four commissioners since June, when Republican member Meredith Attwell Baker left to join Comcast. The FCC is also set to lose Democrat Michael Copps, most likely at the end of the year. Copps’s term officially ended last year, but under present rules he can serve until the current session of Congress ends.
The White House has yet to nominate anyone to fill either of the two FCC openings. Congress, the White House, and the FCC have all been mum on the matter. Spokesmen for both Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to confirm whether they have sent recommendations to the White House. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on when it may announce its picks for the two FCC spots, while a spokesman for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski declined to comment.
The name most widely mentioned for Copps’s seat is that of Jessica Rosenworcel, senior counsel for communications issues for Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee, while Jenner & Block partner Ajit Pai appears to be the top pick for Baker’s seat, several sources said.
Both Rosenworcel and Pai have worked at the FCC. Rosenworcel was a senior adviser to Copps before joining the Commerce Committee in 2007.
Pai left the FCC, where he last served as deputy general counsel, in April. Pai was mentioned the last time there was a GOP opening on the FCC in 2009, before Baker ultimately got the nod.
While reluctant to comment on the FCC nominations, several industry sources praised Rosenworcel and Pai as well qualified. After a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president for regulatory affairs with the wireless industry group CTIA, said both possible nominees “are people we can live with.” CTIA President Steve Largent said that Rosenworcel is “a really nice person and knows her stuff.”
When a seat from each party is open at the commission, Senate leaders generally like to move them at the same time. Still, FCC nominations have been used periodically as bargaining chips in unrelated congressional battles.
For example, former FCC member Jonathan Adelstein’s nomination was blocked for months from 2001 to 2002 by then-Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down Lott’s choice for a judicial nomination.
If the White House or Congress fail to act before Copps’s departure, it wouldn’t be the first time the FCC has been shorthanded, and its rules allow it to function with as few as three members. The commission only had three members for the first half of 2009 until Baker and Democrat Mignon Clyburn joined. Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said he doesn’t believe that a three-member commission would be hampered from getting its work done, noting that the staff in the FCC’s different bureaus would function as usual.
But others who must deal with the FCC would like to see it fully staffed. “The commission should have five commissioners,” Dish Network Senior Vice President Jeffrey Blum told National Journal. “Why delay it?”