Since President Joe Biden took office, the Senate has held four hearings confirming two separate candidates to break the ongoing deadlock at the Federal Communications Commission. The latest was yesterday — and it could have made the FCC more fully staffed, but it’s a sad milestone to celebrate.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing for several positions on Thursday, including Biden’s latest pick for FCC commissioner, Anna Gomez. (You may remember his previous three-time candidate, Gigi Sohn, who dropped out in March.) She is a veteran telecommunications lawyer who has worked for the government for much of her career. mine. Gomez goes unnoticed, so her opinions on controversial issues like net neutrality are mostly unknown. But having been nominated by a Democrat, it was fairly easy to fill the positions she would take.
So yesterday’s hearing went the same way as any previous hearing. Democrats want to know if Gomez supports net neutrality and other popular liberal policies. Republicans sued the entire reason for the FCC’s existence. For her part, Gomez gave all the answers as expected. She strongly supports Title II’s rules of net neutrality. She will defend reseller programs that discount broadband packages for low-income families.
This is good news, or at least better than the alternative. But it was an exhaustingly empty performance. The hearing is a group of committee members that check the boxes; some don’t even show up. Anyone interested enough to tune in will hear little about why Gomez’s confirmation matters – including the urgency of connecting everyone in the US to high-speed broadband.
Tens of millions of Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband
Tens of millions of Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband. Depending on who you ask, that number could be as low as 14 million or as high as 42 million as the FCC has yet to correct the map to give us an exact number. For the sake of argument, use a smaller number. That’s still 14 million people, some of whom have children who can’t finish their homework on the kitchen table or in their bedroom. That’s still 14 million people who can’t stream whatever people are watching on Netflix or Hulu. That’s 14 million people unable to participate in the online world that much of the country takes for granted.
At the height of the 2020 Democratic primaries, I went to Iowa and split my time between caucus events and a reality check on rural broadband disparities. At the time, nearly every Democratic candidate had some plan to bridge the digital divide.
Now in 2023, Biden’s term is half over. His signature infrastructure bill, which aims to stimulate affordable internet access across the country, is poised to funnel money to major telecom companies at the expense of competitive initiatives launched by the city. operating. His FCC couldn’t take stronger action to fix the problem because he couldn’t get the third Democratic commissioner to push his agenda. This is unprecedented. Never, under any administration, has the FCC been without a working majority for so long.
It took eight months for Biden to even nominate Sohn, his first choice, for the seat. Over the next year and a half, the Senate’s focus didn’t push her across to close this gap in broadband access. Instead, Republicans and dark money groups went to great lengths to block her confirmation. Everything from her tweets to her board positions has been turned into jars for the culture wars. The worst part is that Democratic lawmakers have done little to combat these attacks.
The only people who benefit from the FCC’s inaction are the telecommunications companies and their executives, and it’s sad to see this overlooked in all of these hearings. Most frustratingly, millions of people in these GOP senators’ states are still out of reach. Take for example Senator Ted Cruz (right) from Texas — more than 2.8 million Texas households and 7 million Texans lack broadband.
Sohn’s opponents say she’s too radical and threatens freedom of speech, and this is a bigger problem than poor broadband expansion. But having been covered by the FCC since 2017, it’s hard to believe that’s the case. Before she was nominated, everyone I spoke to – Democrats and Republicans – enjoyed working with Sohn. They may not agree on everything, but they do share a common goal of giving everyone in this country broadband.
Since Gomez’s bureaucratic background doesn’t leave much room for Republicans to attack her in the same way as Sohn, it seems that she has a higher chance of being confirmed. But time is running out as the 2024 election season approaches and much damage has already been done. The last few years have shown just how far the FCC’s opponents will go against the agency — and the agency’s supporters are doing little to stop them.