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Rosenworcel mostly avoids specifics during FCC nomination hearing

The US Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing Wednesday for Jessica Rosenworcel, President Biden's pick to head the FCC.

The session lasted several hours, with committee members peppering Rosenworcel with questions on a variety of topics.

In general, Rosenworcel did not offer much insight into exactly what she might do as the chair of the US agency in charge of the telecommunications market. However, she offered a few general comments on a number of hot-button topics.

On net neutrality: "I continue to support it," she said, adding that "we need some oversight [of the telecom industry], because it's become such an essential service." Rosenworcel also said that the FCC has "inherent authority" over net neutrality, and she suggested she might embark on a proceeding into the matter as head of the FCC. That would line up with President Biden's promises on the campaign trail. However, she left open the door for Congressional legislation on the topic. She also did not provide any specific plans to reinstate net neutrality guidelines. The FCC during the Trump administration voted to dismantle the net neutrality rules imposed under the Obama administration (when Biden was vice president).

On Universal Service Fund reforms: Rosenworcel said that "we need to think about a revamp" of how the USF is managed. However, she did not endorse any specific proposal, though she acknowledged FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr's proposal to bolster the USF through fees on Big Tech companies like Amazon. Rosenworcel said only that "we need to have a conversation" on updating the program.

On the need for better broadband maps: Rosenworcel said that she started working to improve the FCC's broadband maps as soon as she was named acting head of the FCC. She added that she has made progress on the topic, specifically pointing to the FCC's new cellular coverage maps. However, she said that the agency is still working to develop holistic maps that show both wired and wireless coverage. She suggested those maps need to be finalized before the government begins allocating funds to construct telecom services in rural or unserved areas. Click here for more on this topic.

On the infrastructure bill: Rosenworcel said that "we're going to need coordination about data and facts" before the FCC and other federal agencies begin distributing billions of dollars in money designed to cross the digital divide. When questioned when such allocations might happen, Rosenworcel said "I think I would probably need to do some review." She also agreed on the need for clarity in audits and penalties for companies receiving government funds, likely a nod to the concerns surrounding the legitimacy of some of the companies participating in the FCC's recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

On spectrum management for 5G: "We need a whole-of-government approach to this," Rosenworcel said, acknowledging that the FCC, NTIA and other federal agencies need to work together to avoid interference concerns like the ones stalling 5G in the C-band. She also suggested that the FCC needs to design "incentives" to encourage other federal agencies to relinquish their spectrum holdings for commercial operations. That's notable considering the US Department of Defense has rejected calls for it to release some of its spectrum holdings for 5G.

On 5G in the 12GHz band: Rosenworcel acknowledged that there are "a lot of engineering issues" that need to be addressed before the FCC might consider opening up the 12GHz band to 5G operations. She said that "we want to be really careful" in order to prevent interference to existing satellite operations in the band.

Biden also nominated Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official, to an open seat at the FCC. As Reuters noted, the Senate Commerce Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on Sohn's nomination.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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