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The Epistolary FCC: Open Letters From the Senate To and About the FCC

Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel

Posted by Chris Alarie on Mon, 09/27/2021 - 17:00

One of the stranger sagas of the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency is his failure to nominate a permanent chair and fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). We covered this issue back in June when more than 50 advocacy groups published an open letter urging the president to fill the open slot. Now, more than three months later, the fifth commissioner position remains open without a nominee and Jessica Rosenworcel remains in the chairpersonship on an active, non-permanent basis. This has prompted another open letter.

On September 22, 25 Senators from the President’s own party published a letter urging him to nominate Rosenworcel to a full term as FCC chair. Noting that Rosenworcel has a good working relationship with many Senators and has already received fairly easy Senate confirmations to her previous position as a FCC commissioner, the Senators explain that she would likely be confirmed easily despite the contentious partisan makeup of the Senate. Because Rosenworcel’s tenure as a commissioner has already expired, she is only eligible to continue serving in her acting role until the end of this year. If Biden’s delay in nominating a permanent chair and a fifth commissioner continues much longer, he will face the unusual circumstance of effectively giving control of the FCC over to the Republicans with a 2-1 majority. Generally, the President’s party has a 3-2 majority on the FCC. No other president has waited so long to nominate candidates to open FCC spots.

Interestingly, there was another recent open letter involving the Senate and the FCC. On September 24, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) published an open letter to Chairwoman Rosenworcel about the FCC’s efforts to combat unsolicited text messages and robocalls. The Senator writes, “I encourage the FCC to move forward on plans to require more telephone carriers to stop spoofed phone calls through implementing the STIR/SHAKEN protocol.” His main practical suggestions are to do away with some of the extensions and delays in STIR/SHAKEN implementation that the FCC has allowed for certain telecom carriers.

Senator Blumenthal’s letter is also notable in light of an observation made by POLITICO on Friday: the FCC’s commissioners have not testified before Congress in more than a year. Normally the commissioners face questioning from Congressional committees 2-4 times per year. Even with all the interruptions related to COVID-19 and the changes within the executive branch in a transitional year from one presidency to another, the commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have testified before Congress. The FCC’s absence from Capitol Hill is unusual and has resulted in lawmakers attempting to conduct oversight of the FCC through letters such as the one sent by Senator Blumenthal.