Biden selected Rosenworcel and Sohn for the FCC, returning net neutrality to the table


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates everything from TV to internet service providers in the United States, is ready to pursue the pro-competition, pro-consumer agenda outlined by President Joe Biden in a July executive order stating that a range of U.S. companies have become too large and need to check their power.

It lasted more than nine months, but Biden chose the FCC seat and nominated someone to fill the long-standing fifth vacancy for the fifth commissioner. Jessica Rosenworcel, who has served as acting chair since January, will continue to lead as the agency’s permanent chair; he was also nominated for a new term, which was his third. And Biden selected Gigi Sohn, a former FCC employee and renowned advocate for an open and affordable internet, to fill the agency’s last spot.

To say that confirmations will pass, which is expected because Democrats control the Senate, the biggest change to watch is that the FCC will finally get the Democratic majority it needs to restore the rules of neutrality to Obama’s era, which has become a major divisive issue. between Democrats and Republicans.

“It is a lifelong honor to be appointed to serve as FCC chair,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Obama’s FCC passed net neutrality in 2015. It best known as a rule that forces internet service providers, or ISPs (Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, for example), to treat all data traveling on their networks the same. Under those rules, these companies can’t pay more if customers go to certain sites or make their internet faster or slower depending on where they go and the services they use. The term net neutrality was coined by Tim Wu, who, in fact, now serves as Biden’s advisor on technology and competition policy. Net neutrality the opponents believe the rule restricts innovation and prevents internet service providers from investing in their networks.

To pass net neutrality, the FCC reclassified broadband from an information service to a common carrier, such as telephone service. That then gives the FCC more regulatory power on it. The reclassification also allows the FCC to create new privacy rules that ISPs must obtain customers ’consent before collecting and sharing their data, such as their web browsing histories.

When Trump took office, his FCC, headed by Ajit Pai, quickly took off. eliminating net neutrality and reclassify broadband as an information service. Those ISP privacy protections never apply, and internet service providers are able to continue to collect, sell, or share customer data – which they do, respectively. recent FTC report. The dreaded attack on additional charges for accessing some websites or blocking others did not come when net neutrality was scrapped, but the FCC effectively handed over most of its control over broadband. providers and services because they have become an important part of American life.

Biden said in his executive order that he wanted the FCC to restore neutrality. But surprisingly he took so long to nominate the commissioners that he had to make that happen. Since Biden took office, the FCC has deadlocked two Republican commissioners (Nathan Simington, confirmed in the dwindling days of Trump’s presidency, and Brendan Carr) and two Democrats (Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks. ).

“The real issue is this: We’ve been missing a year,” Harold Feld, senior vice president of open internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Recode. Feld worked for Sohn when he was CEO of Public Knowledge, which he founded.

The 2-2 FCC has done a lot of work over the past nine months to expand broadband internet and put in place programs to help low-income people access it (Sohn is also big on it, spoke to Recode last year that affordability is the biggest barrier to closing the digital divide). The pandemic made it clear that broadband internet access was no longer a luxury, it was an essential service. But there is no way a deadlocked FCC can go through neutrality. With months of no apparent action in naming a permanent seat or appointing a fifth commissioner, Democrats began to lose patience. On September 22, 25 Democratic senators wrote a letter to Biden urging him to name Rosenworcel as permanent chair “as soon as possible.”

Si Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was one of the signatories, said in a statement to Recode that she strongly supported the two nominations, adding: “The FCC’s strong leadership is essential to delivering the connection goals we demand. economy of the 21st century.… I am confident that Rosenworcel and Sohn have the skills needed to break the digital divide and strengthen our country for future generations. ”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, who told Recode in January that Rosenworcel was her choice for the FCC chair, praised Biden’s choices as “historic,” as Rosenworcel was the first woman to serve as a permanent FCC chair and Sohn was the first. apparently LGBTQ + commissioner.

“Rosenworcel and Sohn are great champions for innovation, public safety, national security, universal broadband, net neutrality, and social justice,” Eshoo said.

To say that Biden’s nominations will pass, the FCC has three commissioners on the list as strong advocates of neutrality, making the attempt to restore it almost a certainty. Starks have it is called a “critical issue” that the FCC “dropped the ball” when it was dismissed. Rosenworcel was an FCC commissioner in 2015 when net neutrality first passed, and he voted for it; he was an opponent to recover it, states it “puts the agency on the wrong side of the public, on the wrong side of history, and on the wrong side of the law.” And Sohn was an adviser to Obama -era FCC president Tom Wheeler when it came to passing net neutrality. He always pushed for its return, said in 2019 that it is “so important to the future of the Internet that neutrality and essential FCC oversight be restored.”

“The FCC can now be back as a champion for consumers,” Wheeler told Recode. “Gigi Sohn is a proven and proven consumer champion; together with Geoffrey Starks, incumbent Chair Rosenworcel has the opportunity to reverse the practices of the Trump years and return the agency to consumer responsibilities and competition.

But neutrality does not happen immediately, even in the most extreme of circumstances.

“It takes a long time to write an FCC order,” Feld said. “It’s a very complicated process. Especially for something like this, where there is be a lawsuit, and it will become a controversy. ”

Net neutrality isn’t the only thing the FCC is likely to get from the Obama era. Biden’s order also calls on the FCC to reinstate the “broadband nutrition label” that clearly states to consumers how much they are paying for their broadband internet service (including all hidden fees) and the speed. that they get for that money.

The FCC could also take more action to protect consumers and items from competition, Feld said. Biden’s order asked the FCC to require broadband providers to tell the agency their rates and subscriber count, ban early termination fees that deter customers, and stop landlords from making deals with cable and broadband companies that restrict tenants ’choice of providers. Feld expects such measures will lower the price of broadband. While broadband rates vary across the country, the United States, in general, pays more for the internet than most other parts of the world. The FCC is also in the process of opening up additional radio frequencies, or spectrum, for 5G services, improve the wrong broadband maps, and we were removed by the scourge of robocalls and texts.

It remains to be seen if the FCC will have enough time to see all of Biden’s initiatives – and those in the current permanent seat – through the House and Senate. His slow path to getting his FCC in place could waste a possible limited time if Democrats lose control of Congress next year and the presidency in 2024. However, Feld thinks that the FCC will return to the traditional low -profile role – “The technical and boring thing.”

“I say this with the most praise: Jessica Rosenworcel is the most beautiful, most nerdiest possible choice for the FCC chair,” Feld said. “Whatever you really want.”





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