President Joe Biden nominated two liberals to fill out the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday, attempting to move the agency in a significantly more liberal direction that will likely result in restoring net neutrality rules and heightened telecommunications regulations.
Biden named Jessica Rosenworcel to be chairwoman and Gigi Sohn to be a commissioner. A White House press release described Rosenworcel as “a champion for connectivity for all.”
The five-member agency, which is in charge of regulating the TV, radio, and telecommunications industries, along with ensuring broadband internet access, has been missing one commissioner and a full-time chair since Biden became president at the beginning of this year. The shortage of personnel has hampered Democrats from moving ahead with their ambitious broadband and telecommunications agenda.
The agency has two Democratic and two Republican commissioners. If Rosenworcel and Sohn are not confirmed by the Senate to their roles by the end of this year, Republicans could have a 2-1 advantage in votes at the agency.
“This is going to result in a far leftward lurch at the FCC with Gigi as the de facto chair because she'll pull all the Democrats in a worrying progressive direction,” a Republican telecom insider said. “I hope Senate Republicans don't do Biden and the Democrats any favors or make it any easier with their nominations, because of this self-created timing crisis the administration is facing.”
Liberals say that by taking so long to choose a full-time chair, Biden signaled that the FCC is not important to his agenda while agency-related issues important to Democrats continue to linger, such as restoring net neutrality rules, increasing internet price transparency, scrutinizing major telecommunications mergers, and improving competition among internet providers.
Rosenworcel, who is the acting chairwoman of the FCC, was first appointed to the commission by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and later reappointed by former President Donald Trump.
Before becoming a commissioner, she served as senior communications counsel to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, before which she worked for the Wireline Competition Bureau of the FCC.
Prior to entering public service, she practiced communications law. She went to Wesleyan University and studied law at New York University.
Sohn, who is a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a former Democratic staffer at the FCC, is one of the most prominent liberal advocates for breaking up and regulating Big Tech companies. She is also strongly in favor of regulating internet service providers such as Verizon and AT&T as public utilities under what's known as Title II regulations.
“We will get net neutrality, and Title II will happen,” Sohn told the Washington Examiner earlier this year.
Liberal scholars of broadband and telecommunications policy say the commission is key to the Democrats’ broader economic agenda and are relieved Biden has nominated two Democratic commissioners.
“Better late than never, we needed a fully functioning FCC, and now we'll finally have it,” said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group that advocates for greater broadband access and competition.
“Reclassifying broadband companies as common carriers under Title II will take up most of next year — net neutrality will be part of that — and they will now reestablish that telecom is very much a regulated industry, which will all be good developments,” Falcon said.
Republicans are staunchly opposed to the Title II regulations, in part because the Title II protections would allow the federal government to regulate or control broadband internet prices if it wanted to.
Rosenworcel and Sohn are expected to face resistance from Senate Republicans, and a final vote on their nominations is likely to take weeks, if not months, to occur because of the limited days left on the legislative calendar this year.
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