A coalition of more than 30 public interest groups is calling on President Trump and the Senate to quickly pick and confirm a fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission. Considering the ongoing pandemic, the groups say FCC action is needed, especially when it comes to making sure the new emergency broadband benefit program gets off the ground.
“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 said in a letter to the White House and Senate leadership. “Vulnerable and disconnected families need immediate assistance to conquer the digital divide during this pandemic, and they cannot afford the delay of partisan gridlock,” they added.
The list of groups includes Common Cause, Free Press, Future of Music Coalition, and the United Church of Christ, all of which have been active in media-related issues in the past. The groups say the fifth person should be seated on the Commission by the end of March.
Free Press Action Campaign Manager Heather Franklin said it is not just internet issues that could be left unfinished. “We also can’t afford to wait any longer for the FCC to complete its long-overdue 2018 quadrennial broadcast ownership review,” she said. “The agency’s failure to promote diverse ownership opportunities during the previous administration has contributed to the appalling lack of media ownership by women and people of color.”
The fifth FCC seat has been vacant since Jan. 20, when Ajit Pai resigned as head of the agency as President Biden took office. As a result, the agency remains deadlocked at two Republican and two Democratic commissioners. Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been appointed Acting Chair by the Biden administration. This week she vowed to keep the FCC moving forward with what it can until there is a fifth vote. For the Commission’s February meeting, she scheduled several noncontroversial items that should have bipartisan support. “Congress has given the FCC its marching orders, and we are not wasting time,” she said.