Back to Square One for President Biden’s FCC Nomination

President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference on the eve of his first year in office, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 19, 2022.
President Joe Biden is starting from scratch on nominating a fifth FCC member. (Image credit: Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

Now that Gigi Sohn has withdrawn her nomination for the open seat on the Federal Communications Commission, the musical chairs game of guess the new nominee begins.

The White House has yet to transmit the withdrawal to the Senate, according to (opens in new tab), but that should happen within a day or two, and the speculation has already begun.

One name that has surfaced as a possible, confirmable candidate is a familiar one — Anna Gomez. Her resume includes a stint as head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the FCC’s opposite number overseeing government-controlled spectrum, as well as experience at the FCC as onetime head of the International Bureau. She also has experience on Capitol Hill and at the White House, and was a partner at communications firm Wiley, which has accounted for a number of FCC commissioners and chairs, including name partner Dick Wiley.

Gomez was one of the names that surfaced back in 2021 before the president tapped Sohn, a veteran public-interest activist and former FCC adviser.

A former top FCC official speaking on background said that a Gomez pick makes sense given she has already gone through a vetting process and security clearance for her State Department job — she is currently senior adviser for international information and communications policy.

Also back in 2021, another name that surfaced was Edward “Smitty” Smith, a partner at law firm DLA Piper (opens in new tab) who has experience with overseeing multibillion-dollar broadband subsidies at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and at the FCC, as an adviser to the Broadcast Incentive Auction Task Force.

Smith also was on the four-person Biden FCC transition review team and raised money for the candidate. One D.C. veteran said that if any profile fit a presidential FCC pick, it is Smith’s.

Someone on the staff of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) could also be in line for the post. Jobs as staffers to powerful senators and relevant committees is another route to an FCC chair.

For example, current chair and former commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is onetime senior communications counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee.

And while Sohn arguably lost her bid due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Rosenworcel’s bid for commissioner was successful in part because her fan club included her then-boss, Senate Commerce Chair and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

In the meantime, the FCC remains at a political tie 2-2, able to tackle only various noncontroversial items. There will almost certainly be no broadcast reregulation, Universal Service Fund reform or net-neutrality rule reinstatement until Biden can nominate a new candidate, who will then need to have a nomination hearing, a successful vote out of committee, then a full Senate vote. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.