Destabilizing speculation

FCC could be crippled under GOP majority due to nominations lag


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(Bloomberg) – Republicans are set to become a majority on the Federal Communications Commission at the end of the year, unless President Joe Biden appoints a president who can be quickly approved by the Senate.

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Eight months after his administration, Biden has not appointed anyone to permanently run the agency. Acting President Jessica Rosenworcel is expected to leave at the end of the year as her term has expired, and it is not clear that lawmakers will have time to accept nominations in a waning session dominated by plans for high stakes law and a looming debt ceiling.

The odd dynamic could see the only remaining Democrat in the FCC, Geoffrey Starks, acting chairman of a five-member committee with two vacancies. He would control the agenda. But he would need the support of at least one of the two Republicans in the FCC for major initiatives that require a vote.

The move could stall on Democratic goals such as restoring net neutrality rules that prevent cable and phone providers from interfering with subscriber web traffic, but were dumped by Republicans under former President Donald Trump. Efforts to strengthen broadband subsidies, make mobile broadband networks more reliable and end consolidation of broadcast ownership may also be delayed.

“It’s horribly frustrating to me that we can’t move forward on something Republicans don’t support,” David Choffnes, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University, said in an interview. “Every day we don’t have a commission that gets us a majority, it’s a day when we don’t have to re-establish net neutrality rules.”

Biden appointed Rosenworcel to lead the FCC shortly after taking office. The FCC has lacked a commissioner since January, when Trump’s President Ajit Pai, a Republican, left. Now the agency is divided along party lines with its members consisting of two Republicans, Rosenworcel and Starks.

Rosenworcel is serving a holding period after her term expired last year, and she is expected to leave the agency when Congress concludes its session, unless the White House is appointed for a new term and then confirmed by the Senate.

Despite months of speculation, no name has come out of the White House for the seat held by Rosenworcel, and the one vacated by Pai.

Rosenworcel has long been considered a top contender. On Wednesday, 24 Democratic senators, and an independent who caucus with them, called on Biden to select her, saying in a letter “there is no better qualified or more competent person” and that the decision to appoint her “cannot no longer be delayed. “

“It will take months for another candidate to go through the process, hire staff and start implementing a program, leading to indecision and deadlock,” the senators said in the letter. Rosenworcel will face few obstacles to confirmation since the Senate has already approved it, lawmakers said.

The White House and the FCC declined to comment on the candidates.

“The odds are better that even the 1-2 situation will occur,” said Blair Levin, Washington-based analyst for New Street Research. “To avoid this situation, the Biden administration would have to nominate and confirm two candidates by the end of the year, which is difficult.”

The remaining Senate schedule is busy and only one senator can slow down a candidate, Levin said.

An understaffed FCC will be able to do “very little beyond necessary administrative tasks and uncontroversial things,” Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior advisor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, said in an interview. .

Progress is needed on issues such as increasing competition for internet access for apartment dwellers and restoring net neutrality rules, Schwartzman said.

“We are maybe 14, 16, 18 months in administration without any action on the initiatives that progressives want,” Schwartzman said. “The sand will start to run out of the hourglass if they don’t fix this problem.”

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