After nearly a year into Joe Biden’s presidency, new pressure is mounting on the Senate to expeditiously confirm nominations for positions at two of the federal government’s top agencies with control over broadband and data privacy.
In new statements issued on Monday, public interest groups Free Press Action and Fight for the Future called on the Senate Commerce Committee to fill the final seats at the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Both Gigi Sohn and Alvaro Bedoya, for the FCC and FTC, respectively, have finished their confirmation hearing processes, but neither nomination has received a final committee vote to set them up for floor confirmation.
“Americans are in desperate need of these consumer protection agencies as their dependence on affordable access to the open Internet has grown during the pandemic,” Fight for the Future said in a statement on Monday. “Industry insiders have openly admitted that they are pushing for these delays because it benefits their bottom line, at the expense of the public.”
With open seats at these agencies, the FCC and FTC are unable to press forward on any partisan measures or Democratic policy priorities, like net neutrality. Late last year, Jessica Rosenworcel was confirmed as FCC chair, but no votes have been lined up for Sohn, Biden’s pick as the last remaining Democratic commissioner. Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra stepped down from the agency after he was confirmed to lead the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in October, leaving the FTC at a 2-2 deadlock.
Biden renominated Sohn and Bedoya on January 4th, setting the nominations up for further consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee. According to Politico on Monday, the committee plans to vote on nominees on January 24th, and the markup may include Sohn and Bedoya, but the final agenda has not been released as of publication.
“There’s no time to waste and so much to get done at the FCC: ensuring the billions being invested in broadband actually reach those who need it most, restoring Net Neutrality and Title II, reckoning with media regulators’ history on race and repairing the damage of the Trump years,” Craig Aaron, Free Press Action co-CEO, said in a Monday statement.
As FCC and FTC nominations saw some movement in the Senate last year, Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and The Wall Street Journal editorial board argued that Sohn was a telecom policy extremist.
“Gigi Sohn is a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country when it comes to regulating the public airwaves,” Graham said in a tweet thread last November. “I will do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee.”
So long as every Senate Democrat, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), votes in favor of both Sohn and Bedoya, no Republican support would be necessary to confirm them.