It’s been 10 months since President Joe Biden made a commitment to resurrect net neutrality—the simple idea that the internet should be treated as a utility, and internet service providers should have to treat all data they send fairly—by naming Federal Communication Commission (FCC) member and open internet proponent Jessica Rosenworcel as the acting FCC chair. Unfortunately that’s as far as he went, leaving another commission chair vacant and leaving the FCC deadlocked with two Democratic appointees and two Republicans. That situation was getting a little worrisome as Rosenworcel’s temporary appointment expires at the end of the year, and we could have ended up with a Republican-led FCC by default.
Biden finally took care of his part of the job last week by nominating Rosenworcel as permanent chair. He even went one better, nominating long-time consumer advocate Gigi Sohn to the vacant seat on the commission. Sohn has been a net neutrality hero for years, having served as then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s counselor, a role in which she definitely influenced Wheeler’s eventual decision in 2015 to implement the Open Internet Order, which set more clear net neutrality rules. The former guy’s guy at the FCC, Ajit Pai, made quick work of overturning that order.
Rosenworcel “has worked to promote greater opportunity, accessibility, and affordability in our communications services in order to ensure that all Americans get a fair shot at 21st century success,” the White House said in announcing her nomination. “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 acknowledged Sohn as “one of the nation’s leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic communications networks,” pointing out her decades of work on behalf of consumers. “For over thirty years, Gigi has worked to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband Internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy. If she is confirmed, Gigi would be the first openly LGBTIQ+ Commissioner in the history of the FCC.”
Finally, the broadband components of Biden’s sweeping anti-trust executive order from the summer can be realized. In that order, Biden called for a restoration of the 2015 net neutrality rules, and encouraged the FCC to prevent internet service providers from making exclusive deals or collusive arrangements with landlords to shut out competition from other ISPs, leaving tenants with only one option.
It also asks the FCC to revive another Obama-era effort, a “Broadband Nutrition Label” that “provides basic information about the internet service offered so people can compare options,” increasing transparency and requiring providers to report prices and subscription rates to the FCC. The order also asks the FCC to limit excessive early termination fees that ISPs charge for people switching providers.
Those are really great things that can now happen as long as the Senate hops to it and fast tracks these nominations. And they really have to be fast tracked, because the six weeks in the Senate are going to be jam-packed with the Build Back Better budge reconciliation bill, government funding, and a debt ceiling hike. Three big things in the Senate in less than two months is a tall order, but there isn’t any time to waste. Nearly an entire year of Biden’s presidency will have passed with two hardcore Republican FCC members blocking pretty much anything Biden and Rosenworcel have wanted to do. They can’t have the opportunity to do so any longer.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair, said the nominations have happened “at just the right time,” perhaps pushing back on the alarm bells advocates have been ringing for the last few months on getting this done. She added that the committee would “swiftly [consider] these nominations before the end of the year.”
That’s one key agency dealt with. Now it’s time Biden does something about Louis DeJoy at the U.S. Postal Service.
This content was originally published here.