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Biden Names FCC Picks, Pushes for Democratic Majority at Deadlocked Agency

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden moved to lock in his first Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commission, naming veteran government lawyer Anna Gomez to an open seat and proposing to extend the service of two current commissioners.

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The appointments poise the FCC, after more than two years of partisan deadlock under a Democratic chairwoman, to act on the party’s priorities, including restoring net neutrality regulations. Such rules bar broadband providers from interfering with web traffic and were gutted by Republicans during the administration of President Donald Trump.

All three nominees, announced by the White House on Monday, need Senate confirmation. In addition to Gomez, Biden proposed a second five-year term for Democrat Geoffrey Starks, who otherwise would need to leave the agency at the end of the year. Biden also proposed another term for Republican Brendan Carr, who has been on the commission since 2017.

Gomez’s arrival would bring the agency to its full strength of five commissioners for the first time since January 2021, when Trump’s Republican chairman departed, leaving the 2-to-2 split. An earlier Biden nominee withdrew amid opposition from Senate Republicans.

FCC commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and no more than three can be members of the president’s party.

Democratic allies have expressed impatience for more action by the FCC on such actions as net neutrality, redressing broadband inequities, and countering media consolidation in favor of diverse and local ownership of outlets.

“I look forward to working with a full complement of FCC Commissioners to advance our mission to connect everyone, everywhere,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement after the nominations were announced.

Gomez tweeted thanks to Biden and said she looked forward to working “to bring the benefits of modern communications to all.”

The Senate is “unlikely” to hold a hearing before the fall, so it will be late 2023 at the earliest for the FCC to have a Democratic majority, said Blair Levin, a Washington-based analyst for New Street Research, in a note Monday.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who helped lead opposition to Biden’s earlier FCC nominee, said he would “closely examine whether Ms. Gomez has the necessary experience, judgment, and policy views to serve as a FCC commissioner.”

In public statements some major industry groups had muted reactions. Jonathan Spalter, chief executive officer of USTelecom, a trade group with members including broadband providers AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said that, “if confirmed, I look forward to working with her and a full five-member FCC.” NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, which represents cable providers including Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., congratulated the nominees, saying “if confirmed by the Senate, each of these individuals will play a critical role.”

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of the CTIA trade group for mobile providers with members including AT&T and Verizon, said in a statement that Gomez has “an impressive track record” and added “we look forward to her swift confirmation.”

Democrats including Rosenworcel have said they support restoring the net neutrality rules.

The agency is considering whether to loosen rules on broadcast consolidation, and how to spread broadband to places that lack good service.

Gomez in January joined the US State Department to lead preparations for the International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference 2023.

She has worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is a Commerce Department branch involved in issues including airwaves allocations. Earlier she held various management positions at the FCC.

Before joining the State Department, Gomez worked as a partner at Washington-based Wiley. The law firm co-founded by a former FCC chair has represented clients at the agency including AT&T, the Boeing Co., and TracFone Wireless Inc.

From 2006-to-2009 Gomez served as vice president, government affairs for Sprint Nextel Corp.

Gomez would be the first Latina to sit on the FCC since 2001, according to the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a nonprofit policy group. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a March 22 letter urged Biden to appoint a Latino to the FCC.

(Updates with reactions in paragraphs eight through 12.)

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