IT Strategy

With a full bench, FCC Democrats may spring into action

The Senate confirmed Anna Gomez to the agency Sep. 7.
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Screenshot of Anna Gomez during the June 22, 2023 Nomination Hearing via Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

· 4 min read

After two and a half years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally has a full bench, which means we may soon see movement on Democratic priorities like cracking down on digital discrimination.

In a 55–43 vote, the Senate approved the Biden administration’s pick of longtime DC telecom attorney and regulator Anna Gomez to fill the fifth and final leadership seat at the agency.

“Anna brings with her a wealth of telecommunications experience, a substantial record of public service, and a history of working to ensure the United States stays on the cutting edge of keeping us all connected,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “I look forward to working with her to advance the agency’s mission to ensure the benefits of modern communications reach everyone, everywhere.”

The vacancy at the communications regulator, which is run by three majority party members and two minority members, languished after Senate conservatives took aim at President Biden’s first nomination, prominent Democrat and advocate Gigi Sohn. Sohn ultimately withdrew from consideration after detractors expressed concerns, including that she was too “extreme” to be politically palatable and that she would conflict with cable and broadcast interests based on her association with a now-shuttered streaming startup.

Gomez comes to the FCC most recently from the State Department, where she worked as a senior advisor on international communications policy. She previously spent years at the FCC doing regulatory work, held a VP of government affairs role at Sprint Nextel, and later moved to Wiley Rein as a partner. She’s the first Latina to hold a top leadership position in the agency since Clinton-era Commissioner Gloria Tristani left the post in 2001.

Along with FCC Democrat Geoffrey Starks, Gomez can now offer a key tie-breaking vote against Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington to advance aspects of Rosenworcel’s agenda, including adopting a new standard to prevent digital redlining.

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Internet service providers passing over low-income and minority communities and denying them infrastructure upgrades is nothing new, but under rules the FCC is formulating, the commission could set a stricter standard for what constitutes digital discrimination, Chao Liu, legislative associate at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told IT Brew.

Gomez could be the tie-breaking vote that cements a lower bar for proving an area has been left out of internet upgrades, he said. On the table currently is language—preferred by some advocates—that defines redlining by its effects on communities, instead of requiring a “smoking gun of clear evidence that the company meant to discriminate,” according to Liu.

“We’re hoping they can finally say with their chest that digital discrimination is real,” Liu said of the finalized FCC rules, due in November. “That really is the core of the fight: What should the standard be?”

And then, there’s always the chance that a fully staffed Democratic slate could try to revive the hot-button Obama-era net neutrality rules, which mandated that internet service providers couldn’t block, throttle, or otherwise grant paid priority access to web content. Rosenworcel voted in favor of the rules in 2015 and voted against their rollback in 2017, which included relinquishing the agency’s authority to regulate ISPs.

Joshua Stager, policy director at advocacy group Free Press, said Rosenworcel must work to restore what’s known as Title II authority over the internet—effectively reextending her agency’s domain—as a first step.

“They need to restore the basic oversight authority that was lost during the Trump FCC,” he said.

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.