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A net neutral future awaits Senate confirmation hearings

Update as of 12/20/2021: The Senate voted 68 to 31 to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel’s re-appointment to the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 7, making her the first female chair in the FCC history. Longtime net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, nominated for the fifth seat at the commission, has generated opposition from Republicans and will face a more difficult confirmation process.

President Joe Biden’s picks for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are awaiting Senate confirmation. If both nominees are approved, it could mean progress on internet consumer protections.

Biden tapped acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as the agency’s permanent chief on October 25. Rosenworcel has already been serving as acting chair since January but would have to step down in 2022 if not confirmed by the Senate.

Veteran public servant Gigi Sohn was nominated for the sole empty commissioner seat. The former FCC staffer is a vocal advocate for open and affordable internet access. She is outspoken against unfavorable telecommunications practices such as price gouging.

The nominees now await confirmations before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The hearings are tentatively scheduled for the week of November 15, Chair Maria Cantwell told Politico’s John Hendel

Confirming Rosenworcel and Sohn, both known proponents of net neutrality, would break the 2-2 split that has slowed progress toward consumer protections for internet customers.

But  failing to confirm them would lead to Rosnworcel’s departure, and give commissioners who are more likely to block net neutrality a 2-1 advantage by January. Reporter Alex Weprin called it a “race against the clock” for net neutrality proponents. (Tell your U.S. Senators to confirm the FCC nominations before the end of the year.) 

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all internet communications equally, meaning that they can’t prioritize data streams and discriminate against others. For example, Comcast shouldn’t be able to stop or slow consumers from watching Netflix to encourage you to keep your cable service.

CUB and other consumer advocates supported the historic net neutrality protections approved by the FCC in 2015, arguing that maintaining an equal internet playing field is necessary to maintain fair prices and promote competition and innovation. In 2017, under new leadership, the FCC voted to abolish the net neutrality provisions.