For the first time in Joe Biden’s presidency, Democrats will have a majority on the Federal Communications Commission and the ability to undo a wave of Trump-era regulation in the internet and communications industries. The Senate has confirmed Anna Gomez as the agency’s third Democratic commissioner, ending a long-standing partisan divide on the panel.
Biden nominated Gomez, currently the State Department’s communications policy adviser, to the FCC in May. The president’s previous choice 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 some Democrats, such as Senator Joe Manchin, declined to confirm Sohn, who is an advocate of affordable broadband.
However, senators found Gomez a more suitable choice and confirmed him to the panel on Thursday with a 55-43 vote. Gomez held several positions for the FCC over a 12-year period before moving to the private sector and then to the State Department earlier this year. She will be the first Latina commissioner of the FCC since Gloria Tristani stepped down in 2001.
Industry bodies and celebrities such as the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and former FCC chair and Broadland campaign co-chair Mignon Clyburn have welcomed Gomez’s appointment. “Finally, at this critical time for the American telecommunications and media industries, we have a full roster of FCC commissioners,” Claude Cummings Jr., president of the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement. “Anna Gomez is a dedicated public servant who is highly qualified to serve at the FCC. We look forward to working with them to realize the potential of a bipartisan infrastructure bill to bring affordable internet service to all Americans and reverse the decline of local news that threatens the foundation of our democracy.
After Gomez is sworn in, the Biden administration will be able to accomplish some of its key communications policy goals after years of partisan impasse 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 chairman Ajit Pai left the panel in January 2021.
The FCC is now expected to reverse some of the efforts to regulate the telecommunications sector that the agency made under Donald Trump. These include a possible reinstatement of Obama-era net neutrality rules, which the agency scrapped in 2017. In recent years, Democratic commissioners’ hands have largely been tied, preventing them from taking meaningful action on issues like internet data caps. However, the agency has still taken action on some fronts, including tackling problems like robocallers and banning telecommunications equipment made by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.
However, Democratic commissioners may need to act quickly to complete the agenda item on behalf of the Biden administration. Biden nominated Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks for a second term. His initial term ended last year, but he remains on the panel in an acting capacity. Unless the Senate reconfirms Starks, the FCC could be in deadlock again in the near future.