At FCC, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Works Well Across The Aisle – But Will It Last?

Last month, President Biden nominated Anna Gomez for the vacant fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and renominated current commissioners Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks for another term. Digital Liberty previously covered Brendan Carr’s achievements as the senior Republican commissioner, including his successful bipartisan work at the agency alongside Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. Their shared accomplishments have discredited the many unwarranted claims that agency dysfunction would result from the multi-year vacancy that has resulted in an even 2-2 split of Republican and Democratic commissioners. 

Today, we turn to the record of Geoffrey Starks, whose general cooperation with the agency’s recent bipartisan agenda has contributed to the FCC’s relatively efficacious functioning in recent years. However, Starks’ partisan preferences may cause some reasonable concerns about how his role on the commission would change if a third Democratic commissioner was added to the FCC.

Starks was initially nominated to the FCC by President Trump in 2018. Hailing from Kansas, Starks has a personal understanding of the needs for expanding broadband in rural communities. He has used his understanding of the pressing need for building out broadband in these areas to work alongside Republicans and Democrats alike to help in the creation of new maps that will help it expand into new regions nationwide. His keen insight into the threat of Chinese communications equipment on US networks led him to lead a workshop entitled Find It, Fix It, Fund It. The workshop aimed to identify options for identifying these threats, addressing them, and obtaining funding to replace faulty equipment. These actions address problems that all Americans can agree ought to be addressed by the FCC and ensure holistic progress towards bipartisan goals.

Unfortunately, Commission Starks has previously expressed views that could lead to him pursuing economically polarizing and backwards-looking policies in a more partisan FCC. Last year, for example, Starks endorsed the introduction of legislation on net neutrality and issued a statement reminding the public that he had “previously stated that the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules were the right approach.” These Obama-era rules created more regulatory roadblocks on the broadband industry that discouraged the exact sort of investment necessary to achieve other aspirational FCC goals, such as building out networks in rural areas. In an FCC with more Democratic commissioners, it would not be surprising for Starks to pursue an economically unfriendly set of partisan net neutrality rules, despite evidence that both speeds and investment have increased faster since net neutrality’s repeal than they ever did under the old rule.

The Senate should take a holistic view of Geoffrey Starks’ achievements and likely future plans when considering his renomination to the FCC. He has successfully worked across the aisle within the Commission and pursued a thoughtful, logical strategy to combat the grave national security threat posed by CCP-linked technologies. However, Biden Administration efforts to make the FCC more partisan by filling the fifth seat with Anna Gomez could cause a shift in priorities for Starks into a more worrisome direction. Therefore, Congress should push Starks to commit to continuing the sort of work he has been doing at the FCC instead of wasting time playing political football with net neutrality rules to score points with progressives.