US Senate votes to give Democrats majority on telecom regulator

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US Senate votes to give Democrats majority on telecom regulator © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen from the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 19, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee for a key fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), giving Democrats a majority on the telecommunications regulator.

The Senate voted 55-43 to confirm Anna Gomez, a Democratic telecommunications attorney who serves as a senior adviser for the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy.

Since January 2021, the FCC has been deadlocked 2-2, stalling Democrats’ efforts to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules revoked under Republican then-President Donald Trump and to pursue other priorities.

In July 2021, Biden signed an executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules adopted under Democratic President Barack Obama in 2015.

Biden’s first nominee for the open seat, former FCC official Gigi Sohn, withdrew in March after three hearings. She blamed industry opponents for scuttling her nomination.

Another big issue for the FCC is the fate of a subsidy program for internet users. Congress awarded $14.2 billion in 2021 for a $30 per month voucher for low-income families to use toward any internet service plan of their choosing.

More than 20 million American households have signed up for the program to date. FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in May she expects the program will run out of money early next year absent congressional action.

The FCC has been involved in a number of issues surrounding Chinese telecom companies.

In 2019, the FCC voted to deny state-owned Chinese telecom firm China Mobile (NYSE:) the right to provide U.S. services and later withdrew U.S. authorizations for several other Chinese telecom carriers, including China Telecom (NYSE:).

On Wednesday, Rosenworcel asked U.S. agencies to consider declaring that Chinese companies including Quectel and Fibocom Wireless pose unacceptable national security risks.

The FCC said last month it would publicly release comments on a bid by an advocacy group to deny the renewal of a license for Fox Television Stations’ Philadelphia station, saying Fox News aired “false information about election fraud” about the 2020 presidential election.

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