Jessica Rosenworcel

The White House was expected to announce Tuesday that acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel would be nominated to permanently lead the agency. (Photo: Flickr/New America/cc)

Senate Urged to Quickly Confirm Net Neutrality Advocates to FCC Posts

The White House was expected to announce the nominations of acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn.

Digital rights advocates called on the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm three nominations expected from the White House on Tuesday, as President Joe Biden was reportedly preparing to name acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency's permanent leader, as well as nominating two other open internet advocates to top positions.

"There's no time to waste and so much to get done."

The president is expected to nominate Gigi Sohn, a longtime defender of net neutrality rules and co-founder of advocacy group Public Knowledge, to the third Democratic seat on the commission. That would give Democrats a majority on the five-seat panel after months of being locked in a stalemate, with two Democrats and two Republicans--including one whose confirmation former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed through during the lame-duck session late last year.

With Rosenworcel's FCC term having lapsed in 2020, the acting chair will have to leave the commission at the end of this year unless the Senate confirms her to a new five-year term by the end of December.

"Finally!" said Evan Greer, director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, regarding the news of the impending nominations. "Now let's get this agency back to work."

Biden is also expected to nominate tech lawyer Alan Davidson, former head of the Open Technology Institute at the think tank New America, to lead the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). As head of the NTIA Davidson would play a key role in implementing the White House's agenda regarding data privacy and distributing federal funds to states to support broadband infrastructure.

"Finally! Now let's get this agency back to work."

Rosenworcel's and Sohn's confirmations would allow the FCC to restore net neutrality rules through Title II of the Communications Act. The rules keep internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down certain websites and content. The repeal of the rules under the Trump administration allowed ISPs to charge internet companies extra fees for access to "fast lanes," betraying the bedrock principle of treating content equally online.

Rosenworcel has also been a strong advocate of expanding broadband access, coining the term "homework gap" for the disparity in internet access available to students in urban and suburban areas versus those in rural parts of the country. The gap, compounded by the fact that seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires the use of the internet, "is the cruelest part of the digital divide," Rosenworcel said in 2016, and was made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the public interest legal firm Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the New York Times Tuesday that the deadlock at the FCC has led to "pretty wide frustration from the consumer side that we haven't had an agency able to do anything about something as important to people's lives as broadband access."

Earlier this year, Rosenworcel proposed the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, using $3.2 billion in coronavirus emergency funds to improve internet access for low-income families. Her supporters in the Senate have pushed the president to make Rosenworcel's role permanent to allow for the distribution of more broadband aid.

Free Press called Rosenworcel "a tremendous choice to lead the FCC at this crucial moment."

"She has proven in her years at the agency to be a champion of the public interest, with political savvy and an incredible depth of legal and technical knowledge," said Free Press president Craig Aaron. "She has a proven track record of getting big things done, whether it's the key role she played in safeguarding and strengthening net neutrality protections as commissioner or leading the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit to help people get and stay connected to high-speed internet during the pandemic." <

The group also applauded the nominations of Davidson, who Aaron called "a champion of the free and open internet throughout his career," and Sohn.

"Gigi Sohn is a devoted advocate for policies and programs that will help people and actually improve their lives," said Aaron. "She brings significant experience inside the FCC and has long been a clarion voice outside of the building for what needs to change... Time and again, she has built broad and bipartisan coalitions to accomplish important goals. But she also knows how to fight for what's right."

"While these choices were worth the wait, there's no time to waste and so much to get done: ensuring the billions being invested in broadband actually reach those who need it most, restoring Net Neutrality and Title II, reckoning with media regulators' history on race, and repairing the damage of the Trump years," added Aaron. "We urge the Senate to move as quickly as possible to advance all of these nominees."

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