Biden Taps Net Neutrality Advocate Rosenworcel To Lead FCC

In moves that could pave the way for restoration of the net neutrality rules, President Joe Biden has chosen Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the agency, and is nominating longtime advocate Gigi Sohn to serve as a commissioner.

“From fighting to protect an open internet, to ensuring broadband access for students caught in the Homework Gap through the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, to making sure that households struggling to afford internet service stay connected through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, she has been a champion for connectivity for all,” the White House stated Tuesday, referring to Rosenworcel.

Rosenworcel, who was first appointed to the FCC nine years ago and has served as acting FCC chair since January, has long supported open internet rules. In 2015, she voted in favor of the Obama-era net neutrality rules -- which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

More recently, she has argued the agency should redefine broadband as service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps -- up from the current benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

“With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too,” she stated last year.

Earlier this year, when the FCC was still under Republican leadership, she dissented from the agency's conclusion that broadband service is being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner.

Sohn, currently at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, previously served as counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who lead the agency during President Obama's second term. She also co-founded the advocacy group Public Knowledge in 2001.

Sohn said in a Twitter post Tuesday that, if confirmed, she will work toward "ensuring that every household in the US has robust broadband Internet."

Public Knowledge's current president and CEO Chris Lewis stated that Sohn “built a culture of bold advocacy and nuanced policy analysis.”

He added: “Sohn never compromised her principles, but also knew when it was necessary to talk with strange bedfellows or make a deal that improved the public interest.”

Two years ago, Sohn publicly opposed T-Mobile's merger with Sprint, writing in a Wired op-ed that the company's promise to expand coverage to 97% of the country was “speculative, unsubstantiated, and entirely unenforceable.”

Rosenworcel's term is slated to end this December, but Biden said on Tuesday that, in addition to designating her as chair, he is nominating her for a new term.

For the first nine months of this year, the FCC has been deadlocked, with two Democrats and two Republicans. But if the Senate confirms Biden's nominations, the agency will be controlled by Democrats, leaving it in a position to move forward with net neutrality rules. 

Open internet advocates praised news of Biden's nominations. 

Sarah Morris, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, called Rosenworcel “a tireless advocate for the public interest,” noting her support for issues including net neutrality and expanding broadband availability.

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