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Biden's FCC nominees, if confirmed, could lead to the return of net neutrality rules

The president has nominated Jessica Rosenworcel for chair and Gigi Sohn for a seat on the commission. If both are confirmed, Democrats gain control of the agency.

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Acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, to be the head of the agency. If she's confirmed by the Senate, she'll be the first woman to fill that role. 

Biden also nominated Gigi Sohn, a net neutrality advocate and a former FCC official, to the other open Democratic seat on the commission. 

If confirmed, the nominations will give Democrats a majority on the five-member commission. Since Biden took office in January, the agency has operated with a 2-2 partisan divide. If Democrats gain control of the FCC, the agency is expected to begin pushing through a restoration of net neutrality rules that prohibit internet providers from blocking or slowing down internet traffic. 

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Net neutrality rules and the reclassification of broadband as a so-called Title II service under the Communications Act were passed during President Barack Obama's term in office in 2015 under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The rules were revoked in 2017 when Republicans took control of the agency following the election of President Donald Trump. 

Since then, Democrats have vowed to restore the rules and the Title II classification, which gives the FCC authority to regulate broadband as if it were a utility much like the traditional phone network. Republicans and internet service providers oppose the Title II classification, because they say it gives the FCC too much authority over broadband and could lead to rate regulation. 

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Former Public Knowledge CEO and ex-FCC official Gigi Sohn has been nominated to fill a role as an FCC commissioner.

 

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Rosenworcel voted in favor of the 2015 rules and the reclassification of broadband as a utility. Sohn, who worked as an advisor to former FCC Chairman Wheeler, has a long career advocating for net neutrality protections and other consumer safeguards.

In addition to supporting net neutrality, Rosenworcel has been a strong proponent of closing the digital divide. In particular, she's long advocated for programs to end the homework gap, or the disparity between haves and have-nots when it comes to students with laptops, tablets and high-speed internet and those without even basic online access.

Sohn has also been a strong proponent of closing the digital divide, as well as ideas such as imposing privacy regulations and instituting reforms for funding the Lifeline program, which provides low-income people with subsidized phone and broadband services. 

Biden also nominated Alan Davidson to head the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. This agency is instrumental in helping set wireless spectrum policy. The agency is also expected to distribute funding for a newly proposed broadband subsidy program, which is part of the traditional infrastructure package that Congress is debating.