Biden Reveals FCC Chair and New Commissioner Nominees

President Joe Biden has paved the way for a potential Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commission, nominating Gigi Sohn to fill the fifth commissioner slot, vacant since Ajit Pai resigned in January. Jessica Rosenworcel, who stepped up as acting chairwoman when Pai left, has been nominated as permanent chair. Sohn, a public interest lawyer with 30 years of experience in communications and technology policy, spent three years as counselor to Obama administration FCC chair Tom Wheeler. In that capacity, she championed net neutrality and Title II common carrier rules that were adopted in 2015, only to be jettisoned in 2017 under Pai.

Rosenworcel has been serving in a “holdover” capacity that ends either on confirmation of a replacement or at the end of the congressional session. Therefore, in order to claim a Democratic majority, Biden needs to fast-track Senate votes not only for Sohn, but also for Rosenworcel, who unless she is reconfirmed will have to step down in January 2022, leaving Republicans with a 2-to-1 majority.

A delay could potentially interfere with FCC business, such as auctioning of spectrum or broadcast license renewals, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society senior counsel Andrew Schwartzman, who in September said telecom players were “freaked out” over Biden’s dilatory FCC selection process.

In a press release, the White House wrote that in addition to advocating net neutrality Rosenworcel has worked to ensure Internet accessibility for all, helping students close the homework gap with the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund and fighting to help economically challenged households stay connected through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

Positioned as a leader in spectrum policy, the release credits Rosenworcel with “developing new ways to support wireless services from Wi-Fi to video and the Internet of Things.”

Sohn, in addition to serving as Wheeler’s counsel from 2013 to 2016 is co-founder and former CEO of Public Knowledge, a leading communications and technology policy advocacy organization. She is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy and a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. If confirmed, “Gigi would be the first openly LGBTIQ Commissioner in the history of the FCC,” according to the White House.

Wired reports that Biden “had reportedly floated Sohn’s name for the chair slot months ago but dropped that plan after behind-the-scenes opposition from senators,” adding that her antitrust zealousness makes not having her as chair “probably a bit of a relief for the big telecom providers who oppose virtually every plan to regulate the broadband and cable TV industries.”

Meanwhile, Vox writes that Biden’s nominations mean “net neutrality is back on the table” and that the newly configured FCC, “is finally poised to pursue the pro-competition, pro-consumer agenda that President Joe Biden laid out in a July executive order declaring that an array of U.S. companies have become too big and need to have their power checked.”

President Biden Announces Key FCC and NTIA Nominations, Benton Institute, 10/26/21

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