For a party whose platform espouses the promotion of women, it’s unfortunate that President Biden declined to elevate Jessica Rosenworcel to Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January. It would have made her the first Chairwoman of the agency. Thirty House Democrat women have written White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain to rectify this mistake. Meantime Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel need not wait for the permanent designation to pursue the right agenda. Nor should she feel compelled to follow the well-trodden footsteps of prior male Democrat Chairs Wheeler and Genachowski who tortured the 1934 Communications Act (the blueprint for Ma Bell) as the framework to regulate the internet. In fact, Rosenworcel has already identified the pressing communications issues facing Americans today: spectrum and security. With her experience as counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees the FCC, she is uniquely suited to liaise with Congress and other federal agencies to advance needed reforms in these domains.

In recent years, embarrassing public disagreements have emerged between the FCC and federal agencies including the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), Departments of Commerce, Education, Transportation, Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many unanimous, evidenced decisions by the FCC have been openly challenged by other agencies to resist the deployment of new technologies which they claim interfere with their aging infrastructure and applications, even though the FCC has scientifically shown the this not to be the case. Naturally, federal agencies which received their spectrum for free have little to no incentive to use it efficiently. A price system would solve this problem immediately, but most Congressional leader have been reluctant to update federal spectrum policy for almost a century. This breakdown reflects a lack of White House coordination and leadership and decades of unchecked spectrum priorities of Executive branch agencies.

Rosenworcel rightly called out the cost of this interagency dysfunction already in 2019, reflecting on national security risk created by the proliferation of insecure Huawei and ZTE network communication equipment purchased with taxpayer funds. Rosenworcel joined the FCC’s unanimous decision to adopt the Order of Protecting Against National Security Threats to the Communications Supply Chain Through FCC Programs and supported President Trump’s Executive Order to formalize the national security processes provided by Team Telecom which led to a review of the licenses granted Chinese government-owned telecom operators, something which hadn’t happened in almost two decades.

Rosenworcel is also correct that more needs to be done to secure America’s communications networks, and it is encouraging that she has already reached out to NTIA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology in the new Administration on this topic. She has called for a more secure Internet of Things by incorporating National Institute of Standards & Technology guidelines into the FCC device approval process. However securing networks requires that Rosenworcel revisit her enthusiasm for Wi-Fi which is a less technically secure wireless network than 5G and that she stand up to trade associations representing the interests of Chinese government-owned device makers flooding the market with vulnerable gadgets. “There is no task at this agency—or in any part of the federal government—that is more important than keeping the American people safe,” declared Rosenworcel.  The efforts that Rosenworcel supported to clean 5G of vulnerable vendors should be extended to Wi-Fi. Consumers should get the same security protections across broadband networks.

Rosenworcel already has the resume to be permanent FCC Chair. Working with Congress to realize reforms on spectrum and security, she will show that she doesn’t need a man’s decision to define her ability to deliver what Americans care about.

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