Biden makes FCC appointments to prevent Republican majority


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Tuesday appointed Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn as head of the Federal Communications Commission in a belated attempt to avoid a Republican majority on the regulator.

If confirmed, Rosenworcel, the acting president of the FCC, would become the first woman to lead the agency. Sohn, a former FCC official, is an advocate for net neutrality.

The FCC has been stranded with vacancies under President Joe Biden’s tenure as the White House faces a raging public health crisis, supply chain collapse and a torrent of disasters severe weather. Unless both candidates are approved by the Senate before the end of the year, Rosenworcel’s term will expire and Republicans will claim a majority in January.

Rosenworcel, who had been widely preferred to be Biden’s choice, faces a tangled political landscape that influences the way Americans learn, work, shop and communicate. As interim president, Rosenworcel has tackled robocalls and championed efforts to close the “homework gap,” including $ 3.2 billion for emergency broadband benefits to help millions. of students who do not have access, according to the FCC.

While regulators have long viewed internet access as a luxury, the pandemic has crystallized how essential the web is to modern life. He shed light on the gulf between those who can seamlessly migrate their lives online and those who have to rely on free broadband signals in dark malls, cafes and parking lots. Research has shown that Internet access is linked to employment and economic growth.

The most recent FCC Broadband Progress Report found that at least 18 million Americans do not have fast, reliable Internet access; experts believe the real figure is much higher. The agency played a role in exacerbating this gap: a faulty FCC card made dozens of households without Internet access “invisible” to regulators, Microsoft warned in 2019.

Rosenworcel underscored its commitment to expand broadband access to Americans in a statement Tuesday.

“It is an honor to work with my colleagues on the Commission and the talented staff of the agency to ensure that no matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the connections they need to live, work and learn. in the digital age, ”she said.

Both candidates would be essential in pushing Democrats to rekindle net neutrality, the latest out of a decades-long battle over whether all internet traffic should be treated equally by providers. The fight was marked by an endless pingpong of court challenges and garnered national attention, prompting millions of Americans to advocate directly with the FCC to preserve its own rules before the agency votes to repeal them under President Donald Trump in 2017.

Now, at a time that has underscored how essential internet access is for all Americans, Democrats are aiming to resurrect one of their tech policy priorities. In June, Biden signed an executive order encouraging competition in the economy, setting the stage for the FCC to re-enact net neutrality provisions and pursue a “broadband nutrition label” that allows consumers to review associated details. at their broadband plans, data allowances at prices.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a colleague at Sohn’s who also advocates net neutrality, said if confirmed, the candidates will allow the FCC to move forward with initiatives that have been sidelined while the commission was deadlocked 2 to 2.

“President Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Gigi Sohn will create an FCC ‘dream team’ that can implement a progressive telecommunications policy agenda for decades to come,” said Schwartzman, senior advisor at Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, in a statement. .

Sohn would also be the first openly LGBTQ commissioner in FCC history, which Schwartzman said could help the FCC “reflect the often overlooked” needs of the community.

The Free Press advocacy group urged Congress to quickly confirm the candidates so the agency can advance Democrats’ telecommunications priorities.

“While these choices were worth the wait, there is no time to waste and so much to do: make sure the billions invested in broadband actually reach those who need it most, restore Net neutrality and Title II, taking into account the history of media regulators on running and repairing the damage of the Trump years, ”Free Press President and Co-CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement.

Republicans have historically opposed efforts to regulate broadband as a public service, siding with telecom giants including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, which say they believe in the principles of openness of the internet, but s’ oppose strict federal rules to enforce them.

The White House also announced the appointment of Alan Davidson as deputy secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is responsible for advising the president on telecommunications policy issues. Davidson is a tech industry veteran who is currently a Senior Advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the values ​​of the Open Internet. He previously founded Google’s office for public policy in Washington.

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