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After blocking a progressive reformer, big telecom seems thrilled Biden’s new FCC pick is a safe choice

It isn't bold, but it will probably succeed.


Karl Bode


Posted on May 23, 2023   Updated on May 23, 2023, 9:34 am CDT

Hoping to break long-standing, lobbying-fueled gridlock at the nation’s top telecom and media regulator, the White House nominated Anna Gomez to fill the remaining empty spot at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Gomez previously worked as a lobbyist at Sprint-Nextel, as an administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and for 12 years in various roles at the FCC. She also has extensive experience as a corporate attorney for a variety of companies that routinely have business before the agency.

“She is eminently qualified for this role at the FCC,” Jessica González, Co-CEO for consumer group Free Press, told the Daily Dot. “She would also be the first Latinx FCC commissioner in more than two decades, and we celebrate the White House’s nomination of experts from diverse backgrounds for these important roles.”

Biden’s previous nominee to the agency, Gigi Sohn, saw her nomination falter in the wake of a coordinated telecom and media industry smear campaign that falsely framed the respected consumer advocate and media reformer as a fringe radical. 

The homophobic industry-backed campaign—which also falsely claimed Sohn held animosity for both law enforcement and rural America—provided superficial justification for unified opposition to Sohn by the GOP, and by three key Democrats: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

Gomez, currently serving as a senior adviser for international information and communications policy in the cyberspace and digital policy bureau of the State Department, would be the first Latina FCC Commissioner since 2001. Several civil rights groups—including some with financial ties to the telecom sector—had criticized the Sohn choice

Unlike Sohn, Gomez’s positions on several key telecom policy issues haven’t always been clear. In particular, Gomez has made no public comment on whether she supports classifying broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, a cornerstone in restoring popular net neutrality protections stripped away during the Trump era.

Such restrictions were designed to prevent telecom monopolies from abusing their market power to unfairly penalize consumers and competitors. The 2017 decision to kill the protections not only eliminated the rules—which have broad, bipartisan public support—but pared back much of the FCC’s dwindling consumer protection authority over telecom giants.

“I would say that given the Biden Administration’s support and the support of the other two Democratic commissioners for restoration of Title II authority and net neutrality, I think she will genuinely be supportive,” Greg Guice, director of government affairs for Public Knowledge, told the Daily Dot. 

By law, the party that holds the White House enjoys a 3-2 Commissioner voting majority at the FCC. But with the Democrats’ third seat effectively held captive by unchecked lobbying influence for two years, the agency has lacked the voting majority to impose any policy reform deemed remotely controversial by the telecom and media giants the agency oversees.

That includes not only issues like net neutrality, but the potential restoration of media consolidation limits—previously crafted over decades with bipartisan support—also unceremoniously stripped away during the Trump administration.

Gomez’ ambiguous track record on key consumer issues like net neutrality could prove beneficial to her nomination, as it provides little ammunition for industry opposition. At the same time, should Gomez not support Title II and net neutrality reform, the agency would still lack the voting majority needed to restore net neutrality and FCC consumer protection authority.

That could prove problematic in a country where unchecked monopoly power generally results in expensive, patchy, and sluggish broadband access due to a dearth of competition. Increasingly, federal regulators routinely pay lip service to bridging this digital divide, but often lack the political courage to address or even criticize telecom monopoly power.

Outspoken reformers like Sohn, keen on disrupting this profitable status quo, generally struggle to survive a nomination process through a Congress heavily reliant on campaign contributions from the politically powerful telecom industry.

“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies,” Sohn said at the time.

In stark contrast, telecom giants were quick to laud the Gomez pick, suggesting her nomination process could be less acrimonious than the unrelenting lobbying assault that greeted Sohn. 

“I have come to know Anna over the years in her roles as an advocate in the public and private sectors, and if confirmed, I look forward to working with her and a full five-member FCC on our shared objective to connect everyone everywhere to the power and promise of broadband,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, a trade organization that represents telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon. 

Similarly, Comcast chief legal officer Tom Reid issued a statement saying that Gomez’s “deep knowledge across the breadth of issues before the FCC makes her exceptionally qualified to be a Commissioner.”

Despite the positive comments, media and telecom giants remain incentivized to drag out the Gomez nomination process for as long as possible. An FCC without a voting majority is an agency incapable of implementing any meaningful reform. 

At this point, most consumer groups are keen to see any progress whatsoever. The Trump FCC was widely seen as little more than a rubber stamp to industry interests, and the agency during Biden’s tenure has spent two years avoiding even semi-controversial policy. That’s six straight years of regulatory inaction policy groups are eager to see come to an end.

“This senseless delay is harming millions of people, including working families trying to pay their rising monthly bills and Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and rural communities that the biggest telecom companies and broadcast conglomerates have long neglected,” González said.

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*First Published: May 23, 2023, 9:23 am CDT