After more than three years without a fully staffed Federal Communications Commission, President Joe Biden nominated longtime telecom attorney Anna Gomez to become the agency’s next commissioner this week. The news comes months after his first pick, Gigi Sohn, withdrew her name from consideration following a grueling 16-month political battle. And where Sohn became a lightning rod for controversy, Gomez’s nomination has so far seemed to defuse it.
Gomez has a long history of working in both the public and private sectors. Currently a senior advisor at the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, she spent more than 12 years serving at the FCC in several roles. She also worked as a partner at the law firm Wiley Rein and was the vice president of government affairs for Sprint Nextel from 2006 to 2009.
“I thank President Biden for this honor. I am humbled and grateful,” Gomez said in a statement posted to LinkedIn Monday. “If confirmed, I look forward to working with Chairwoman Rosenworcel and my fellow Commissioners to bring the benefits of modern communications to all.”
Gomez’s mix of public and private sector work has seemingly won her the support of digital liberties groups and the telecom industry alike
Gomez’s mix of public and private sector work has seemingly won her the support of digital liberties groups and the telecom industry alike. On Monday, representatives of Comcast and USTelecom issued statements welcoming her nomination. “Anna Gomez’s deep knowledge across the breadth of issues before the FCC makes her exceptionally qualified to be a Commissioner,” Comcast said in a press release Monday.
“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,” Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, said in a Monday statement.
Meanwhile, civil liberties groups like Free Press also backed Gomez’s nomination. “In addition to her corporate experience — which has often entailed working for competitive carriers instead of incumbents — Gomez has a long track record of public service, including high-ranking positions at the FCC and Commerce Department. She is eminently qualified for this role at the FCC,” Jessica J. Gonzalez, Free Press co-CEO, said in a statement Monday.
It’s a stark contrast to the response for Sohn, a former FCC staffer and longtime public servant. Sohn’s first October 2021 nomination was met with widespread excitement from progressives who lauded her experience in public advocacy work. But that progressive excitement was quickly replaced with anger as Sohn’s nomination met an intense opposition campaign from Republican activists and lukewarm support from some Democrats.
Sohn was renominated twice and eventually withdrew due to the resistance she argued stemmed from dark-money industry groups lobbying against her. “I could not have imagined the 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.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) — one of Sohn’s most ardent opponents and top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee — seemed open to Gomez’s confirmation in a statement to The Verge on Monday. “FCC commissioners should have outstanding qualifications and be committed to serving as even-handed and truly independent regulators, not as partisan activists,” Cruz said. “I will closely examine whether Ms. Gomez has the necessary experience, judgment, and policy views to serve as a FCC commissioner.”
It’s possible this will change. If Gomez’s nomination is approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, it will need to pass on the floor. And her positions on partisan issues, like net neutrality, could sway some senators against her confirmation.
While previously working for the Biden campaign, Gomez hasn’t made public statements on key policy issues like net neutrality in the past. She’s also stayed away from making her positions known on platforms like Twitter. Before issuing a statement on the platform thanking Biden for her nomination on Monday, Gomez’s last post was from November encouraging people to follow her on Mastodon, where she has a minimal presence. Otherwise, she retweeted posts from government agencies like the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Gomez’s obscure online presence could serve as a boon throughout her confirmation process. Before Sohn withdrew her nomination, groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Accountability Foundation leveraged old tweets to sow dissent among senators.
“Any further delay means big companies will have an easier time engaging in unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory actions”
As of publication, it’s unclear when confirmation hearings for Gomez could start. Reached for comment on Monday, Tricia Enright, a spokesperson for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), said that the committee cannot schedule a confirmation hearing until it receives Gomez’s formal nomination from the White House.
Biden’s deadlocked FCC has failed to accomplish some of his major policy goals. In 2021, he signed an executive order to promote competition across the US economy. The order included reinstating nationwide net neutrality protections, something a 2–2 split commission can’t accomplish. Since the Trump administration repealed the Obama-era net neutrality protections, centrist Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have strongly opposed bringing them back, a position that could affect how they vote on Gomez’s final confirmation on the floor.
Until the Senate holds its first confirmation hearing, Gomez’s low-profile career history makes it difficult to predict how she would vote on Biden administration priorities like net neutrality. And past commissioners have sometimes had surprising careers. Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler was a former telecom lobbyist who seemed poised to oppose net neutrality, only to flip positions and become a strong defender of it under Obama.
But nothing can happen unless Gomez is confirmed, and the Biden administration may be running out of time. “Any further delay means big companies will have an easier time engaging in unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory actions, because they know this vital watchdog agency isn’t operating with the majority it needs,” Gonzalez said. “If these leaders want to improve the lives of internet users, cellphone customers, TV watchers and radio listeners — meaning everyone — they need to speed up confirmation before the clock runs out at the FCC.”