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Advocacy Groups Publish Open Letter Urging Biden to Fill Fifth FCC Slot

The exterior of the FCC building

Posted by Chris Alarie on Wed, 06/16/2021 - 12:05

More than 50 advocacy groups have signed an open letter urging President Joe Biden to address one of the most prominent examples of inaction in the early months of his presidency: his failure to nominate a fifth Commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The signatories include consumer protection advocates, trade unions, and civil liberties advocates such as the ACLU.

Normally, the FCC is constituted such that the current president’s party controls three seats while the opposing party controls two. Upon former Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement that he would step down when Biden was inaugurated as President, it was assumed that the Biden administration would begin with a 2-1 FCC majority. But late in last year’s lame duck session, Senate Republicans rushed a confirmation for Nathan Simington, a nominee of former President Donald Trump. As a result, the current partisan makeup of the Commission is a 2-2 stalemate.

Biden has also failed to nominate a permanent Chairperson, with Jessica Rosenworcel serving as Acting Chair. Technically, Rosenworcel’s tenure as a commissioner has expired but she is allowed to continue serving until Biden formally nominates her as Chairperson or nominates someone else as Chairperson and either renominates Rosenworcel as a Commissioner or nominates another Commissioner to replace her.

As the signatories to the letter explain, the 2-2 deadlock has prevented the FCC from enacting the administration’s priorities on communications policies. They also point to practical exigencies that make nominating a fifth Commissioner soon an imperative, writing: “Given the legislative calendar and the diminishing number of days for hearings and confirmation votes, we have reached a critical point to guarantee the agency charged with ensuring affordable communications access can do its work during your administration.”

President Biden nominated Linda Khan as Chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in March and she was not sworn in until yesterday. It can safely be assumed that a FCC nominee would follow a similar timetable, making the long delay in naming a nominee all the more surprising.