UPDATE A coalition of 30 advocacy groups are calling on President Joe Biden and Congress to quickly fill the vacant, fifth seat on the FCC.
While Biden named Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, the Acting Chairwoman, the Commission was left with a vacancy when former Chairman Ajit Pai exited on Inauguration Day. He told reporters just before he left that even if President Donald Trump was re-elected, he and his family had decided he would leave the post at the beginning of this year.
Before Pai left, Senate Republicans fast-tracked the confirmation of Nathan Simington, a Republican nominated by Trump. That leaves the agency deadlocked at 2-2, Inside Towers reported.
The FCC is composed of five commissioners, with three from the president’s party and two from the opposite party. Biden will be able to nominate a third Democrat. This could be a nomination for chair or commissioner, depending on whether he designates Rosenworcel as his permanent chair. The agency needs three Democrats to form a tie-breaking majority and advance more contentious agenda items.
On Thursday, 32 advocacy organizations argued in a letter to the Biden administration and members of the Senate that there needs to be a “speedy nomination and confirmation” of a fifth commissioner to the FCC, so it can tackle issues like the digital divide, which has been spotlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We ask you to ensure that these critical efforts are not stalled in a deadlocked FCC by seating a fifth commissioner as soon as possible,” the groups say in the letter. They would like the seat to be filled by the end of March, emphasizing that, “vulnerable and disconnected families need immediate assistance to conquer the digital divide during this pandemic, and they cannot afford the delay of partisan gridlock. Leaving the agency in charge of charting the course for affordable communications access and infrastructure impotent to pursue the bold action required at this time would be a serious failing,” say the groups. They include the Center for Democracy & Technology, Common Cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the NAACP, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities and several others.
Despite not having a clear majority, Rosenworcel’s FCC is still working. Plans for this month’s meeting include updates on what the Commission is doing to help Americans afford broadband, improving its broadband location maps and expanding access to telehealth. “We’re going to hit the ground running,” Rosenworcel promised last week, Inside Towers reported.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief