At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was questioned on a wide variety of issues, ranging from Universal Service Fund reform to rural call completion to the FCC’s decision earlier this year to reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. Among these topics, questions pertaining to wireless spectrum allocation and the repacking of broadcast television stations in the wake of the upcoming incentive auction earned the spotlight, as Rosenworcel reminded lawmakers of their role in helping the FCC realize its goals of promoting licensed and unlicensed broadband and the vibrancy of television broadcasting.
Rosenworcel—one of three Democratic commissioners at the FCC—assumed her FCC seat in 2012 upon the departure of former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. Last May, President Obama re-nominated Rosenworcel to serve a second full term at the FCC, which would expire on June 30, 2020. Although Rosenworcel’s first partial term with the FCC expired in June, she remains in service as an FCC commissioner pending Senate confirmation.
As she proclaimed that FCC policies for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum “have made our wireless markets competitive, innovative and strong,” Rosenworcel told lawmakers in her opening statement that “there is more work to be done,” which includes “supporting the world’s first spectrum incentive auctions, managing the impact of this transition on our nation’s local broadcasters, and building on our wireless success with the next generation of mobile service known as 5G.” When asked about the value of reserving spectrum for unlicensed usage during wireless spectrum auctions, Rosenworcel emphasized the need for a “steady . . . pipeline” of both licensed and unlicensed resources, as she recommended that any legislation mandating spectrum auctions should include “a cut for unlicensed or a Wi-Fi dividend.” Rosenworcel also lamented the refusal of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score unlicensed spectrum on grounds that such spectrum does not raise funds for the U.S. Treasury, charging that CBO policy fails to account for the value of unlicensed spectrum to the national economy.
Citing projections that more than 1,000 television stations may have to be repacked in the wake of the incentive auction, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) suggested to Rosenworcel that the final cost of repacking and relocating these stations could be more than double the $1.75 billion reserved by Congress for that purpose. However, as she voiced confidence that the $1.75 billion Congressional outlay “will be enough,” Rosenworcel advised Blunt: “we should stay on guard, because if we find out that it is not, we’ll have to come back to Congress and ask you for your assistance.”