For the first time in Joe Biden’s presidency, Democrats will have a majority at the Federal Communications Commission and the ability to undo a wave of Trump-era deregulation in the internet and communications industries. The Senate has confirmed Anna Gomez as the agency’s third Democratic commissioner, bringing an end to a long-standing partisan split on the panel.
Biden nominated Gomez, who is currently a State Department communications policy adviser, to the FCC in May. The president’s previous pick for the FCC’s open chair was Gigi Sohn, who withdrew from consideration in March after enduring attacks from politicians and industry lobbyists. Republicans and certain Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin refused to confirm Sohn, who is an advocate for affordable broadband.
However, senators found Gomez a more palatable choice and confirmed her to the panel on Thursday with a 55-43 vote. Gomez worked for the FCC in several positions over a 12-year period before moving into the private sector then onto the State Department earlier this year. She will be the FCC’s first Latina commissioner since Gloria Tristani stepped down in 2001.
Industry bodies and figures such as the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and former FCC chair and Broadland campaign co-chair Mignon Clyburn have welcomed Gomez’s appointment. “At long last, at this critical time for the US telecommunications and media industries, we have a full roster of FCC commissioners,” Communications Workers of America President Claude Cummings Jr. told Engadget in a statement. “Anna Gomez is a dedicated public servant who is highly qualified to serve on the FCC. We are looking forward to working with her to realize the potential of the bipartisan infrastructure bill to bring affordable internet service to all Americans and to reverse the decline of local news that threatens the foundations of our democracy.“
After Gomez is sworn in, the Biden administration will be able to fulfill some of its major communications policy goals after a years-long partisan deadlock at the FCC. The agency has long had two Democratic and two Republican senators, who have often been unable to agree on policy votes since former chair Ajit Pai left the panel in January 2021.
The FCC is now expected to reverse some telecommunications sector deregulation efforts that the agency carried out under Donald Trump. Those include the potential restoration of Obama-era net neutrality rules, which the agency scrapped in 2017. In recent years, Democratic commissioners have had their hands largely tied, preventing them from taking meaningful action on issues such as internet data caps. However, the agency has still taken action on some fronts, including tackling problems such as robocallers and banning telecom equipment made by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.
The Democratic commissioners may need to act quickly to carry out agenda items on behalf of the Biden administration, however. Biden has nominated Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks for a second term. His initial term expired last year, but he has remained on the panel in an acting capacity. Unless the Senate re-confirms Starks, the FCC may be back in a deadlock scenario in the not-too-distant future.