Biden is expected to name two FCC nominees in the race to prevent a Republican majority.

According to people familiar with the developments, the president could name his nominees, Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn, as early as Tuesday.

Three people familiar with the decision said late Monday that President Joe Biden is expected to name acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the agency permanently, giving her a key position to shape Democrats' broadband and net neutrality agenda.

According to the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public, Biden is also expected to nominate progressive net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official, to the open Democratic seat on the commission. According to the sources, the White House has begun informing lawmakers about the impending announcements.

The moves, which could be announced as soon as Tuesday, would give Democrats a majority on the five-member panel for the first time during Biden's presidency, putting an end to a 2-2 partisan stalemate that has stymied much of the FCC's progressive agenda. This includes restoring the agency's Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited internet service providers from blocking or throttling consumer internet traffic.

However, the decisions come relatively late in Biden's term: only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon appointed their FCC chair as late as September of their first year. And, unless the Senate confirms Rosenworcel and Sohn before the end of the year, Republicans will have a 2-1 majority on the commission in January.

According to the people, Biden is also expected to nominate longtime tech lawyer Alan Davidson to head the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a key post for setting the executive branch's policies on issues such as wireless spectrum use and 5G.

The White House's expected support for Rosenworcel will likely give her efforts to close the digital "homework gap" and expand broadband use new subsidy programs created during the pandemic more traction.

A nod to progressives: Biden's selection of Sohn for the open Democratic seat would be the latest notable nod to progressives. He previously appointed antitrust advocate Lina Khan to lead the Federal Trade Commission and hired fellow anti-monopolist Tim Wu to a top economic advising position in the White House.

During the Obama administration, Sohn fought hard for net neutrality and served as a top adviser to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. She previously co-founded and led the left-wing advocacy group Public Knowledge in Washington, D.C.

Despite having many policy views in common, Rosenworcel and Sohn have previously been at odds in some key battles. One of Sohn's Obama-era causes was a contentious attempt to increase competition in the cable set-top box market. Rosenworcel, who was opposed to the plan, used her tie-breaking vote on the commission to ratchet up the pressure.

Education and public safety groups, as well as union workers, have recently backed Rosenworcel, as have lawmakers such as Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), as well as Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) (D-Calif.). In September, 25 Democratic senators told Biden that he should appoint Rosenworcel to avoid jeopardizing the success of his broadband expansion plans.

The clock has started ticking: If these nominees are confirmed, there will be a mad dash for Senate Democratic leadership over the next two months.

Chip Somodevilla

 

Although Rosenworcel can take over as permanent chair immediately, her term on the FCC expires in 2020, so she must leave at the end of this year unless the Senate confirms her to a new five-year term.

Republicans would almost certainly use the confirmation process to discourage a resurgence of net neutrality. They contend that the Republican repeal of the policy in 2017 has not resulted in any of the horror stories that net neutrality advocates warned about, such as ISPs manipulating or blocking their customers' internet traffic.

And the Commerce Department's telecom expert: According to people familiar with the decisions, Biden chose Davidson for the NTIA role. Davidson is a veteran tech lawyer who has worked at Mozilla, the company that launched the Firefox browser, since 2018. Davidson was in charge of the company's data privacy and open internet portfolios.

He also spent years in other top tech positions, including at Google, whose former CEO Eric Schmidt is a staunch Biden supporter and active on a variety of tech issues ranging from 5G to artificial intelligence.He was Google's first emissary in Washington, opening its D.C. office in 2005 and serving as director of public policy for a half-decade, including lobbying for the search giant.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is expected to play a key role in shaping Biden's agenda around broadband connectivity and 5G wireless technology, including security issues involving the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, as well as tech issues such as data privacy. The Commerce Department would also be in charge of distributing $42 billion in grants to states to support the construction of broadband infrastructure under the bipartisan infrastructure plan that passed the Senate in August.

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