Possible Ramifications of Deadlocked FCC


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UPDATE Now that the Senate has confirmed Nathan Simington as the next GOP FCC Commissioner, what is the likely outcome from a 2-2 deadlocked agency on key issues? Plenty, according to consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

Inside Towers reported that with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai set to leave the Commission on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, Simington’s confirmation will prevent new President Joe Biden’s FCC from having a Democratic majority and pushing a new agenda early in the new administration. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr urged the Senate to quickly confirm Simington to thwart the Dems’ agenda, Fox reported.

Biden will ultimately get a majority, after the Senate eventually confirms another Democrat. But that could take a while, according to Harold Feld, a long-time telecom attorney and senior vice president of Public Knowledge. 

During the Senate vote, Simington opponent Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said a deadlocked FCC might be what large telecoms and mediacos want. However, “while this sounds like an industry dream, this would quickly become an industry nightmare as the necessary work of the FCC grinds to a halt,” says Feld. He points out “virtually every acquisition” by a wireless carrier, broadcaster or cable provider needs Commission approval.

“Unlike in antirust, there’s no deadline for the agency to act. The Chair of a deadlocked FCC can simply freeze all mergers and acquisitions in the sector until Democrats have a majority,” writes Feld.

He says the Chair could grind the agency’s work to a virtual standstill, cancelling all spectrum auctions and suspending consumer electronics certifications. “Such actions would have wide repercussions for the wireless, electronics, and retail industries.” The Chair in a deadlocked FCC could also take policy actions that don’t require a full Commission vote and are largely unseen, according to the attorney.

Biden can nominate one of the two Democrats to Chair once he’s taken office. Many analysts predict Jessica Rosenworcel will be named Interim Chair and has a good shot at getting the job permanently, Inside Towers reported. The Chair can pressure the Senate to confirm Biden’s choice for the agency’s third Democratic seat, according to Feld.

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