Technology

Biden nominates FCC chair, new commissioner to give Democrats majority

Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 05, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

President Joe Biden announced his nominees to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday, ending the historically long waiting period.

In a press release, the White House said Biden would designate Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, to take on the role of permanent chair and nominate her to another term on the commission. He also plans to nominate former FCC official Gigi Sohn, another Democrat, to fill the agency’s fifth commissioner slot. He is also expected to nominate Alan Davidson as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Rosenworcel, if confirmed, will be the first female permanent chair of the agency. Sohn would become the first openly LGBTIQ+ Commissioner.

Many lawmakers and advocacy groups had grown impatient with Biden’s failure to nominate any officials to the FCC after making Rosenworcel acting chair shortly after his inauguration. Without a permanent chair and a 2-2 deadlock of Republican to Democratic commissioners, the agency could only move forward with bipartisan measures, rather than bold agenda items like net neutrality. Democats will hold a 3-2 majority if both Rosenworcel and Sohn are confirmed.

A group of 25 Senators wrote to Biden last month urging him to install Rosenworcel as permanent chair.

“We represent 17 states and a wide range of political and policy views, but one thing we have in common is a belief that there is no better qualified or more competent person to lead the FCC at this important time than Acting Chair Rosenworcel,” the lawmakers wrote. “Importantly, we believe that Acting Chair Rosenworcel will face few obstacles to her confirmation.”

That’s especially significant since Rosenworcel still risks having to leave the commission at the end of the year unless the Senate manages to confirm her to a new five-year term before then since her last term lapsed in 2020. Lawmakers have limited time to host confirmation proceedings before the end of the year, especially as they remain focused on passing Biden’s infrastructure package.

If Rosenworcel leaves the commission before either nominee can be confirmed, Republicans would hold a 2-1 majority on the commission until the Senate moves forward.

Sohn, who was a top advisor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, has been a favorite to be nominated among progressive groups. Sohn has been a strong proponent of net neutrality measures, having worked with for Wheeler while he ushered through the 2015 rules during the Obama administration. Those rules were rolled back under the Trump administration.

Sohn has most recently served as a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy.

Davidson, the NTIA nominee, has most recently worked for Mozilla, which has been a major backer of net neutrality rules. He previously opened Google’s public policy office in Washington, leading government relations in the Americas until 2012.

Rosenworcel has made closing the so-called Homework Gap a signature piece of her platform, emphasizing equity in the push to get more households connected to the internet.

Biden has previously installed progressive favorites in the Federal Trade Commission and the White House with his selection of Lina Khan to chair the FTC and Tim Wu to the National Economic Council. Both have been critical of the Big Tech companies and the ability of the prevailing antitrust framework to properly account for their power.

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