WASHINGTON — On Thursday, a coalition of more than 30 pro-democracy, digital-rights, media-diversity and racial-justice groups called on the Biden administration and leading members of the Senate to quickly nominate and confirm a fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, FCC action is urgently needed to bridge the digital divide so that all people have affordable internet access enabling them to stay safe while working and learning remotely,” the groups wrote in a letter to U.S. leadership. “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.”
Signers of the letter include Access Now, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Common Cause, Consumer Reports, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press Action, The Greenlining Institute, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, MediaJustice, the NAACP, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Native Public Media, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, the United Church of Christ OC, Inc., and Writers Guild of America West. (The full list is available here.)
The fifth agency seat has remained vacant since Jan. 20, when then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai resigned as President Biden took office. As a result, the agency remains deadlocked at two Republican and two Democratic commissioners. One of those Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel, is now the agency’s acting chairwoman.
The Biden administration’s nominee for the fifth seat will need Senate confirmation.
Free Press Action Campaign Manager Heather Franklin made the following statement:
“We need a fully functioning FCC. Failing to take quick and decisive action could seriously harm millions of people in the United States who need and deserve access to open and affordable communications during a national emergency. We’re now 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and nearly 80 million people don’t have adequate broadband at home — with poor families and people of color disproportionately disconnected. That is unacceptable.
“Leaving the fifth seat empty could stall agency efforts to make broadband more affordable, reliable and ubiquitous. A deadlocked FCC would also hamper efforts to remedy the Trump administration’s neglect of the FCC’s essential Lifeline program, and to open up funding for remote-learning connectivity.
“We also can’t afford to wait any longer for the FCC to complete its long-overdue 2018 Quadrennial Broadcast Ownership Review. 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.
“Finally, the FCC needs a fifth commissioner to make the right decisions on reclassifying broadband internet as a Title II service, restoring crucial protections for broadband that fit the essential nature of this modern-day utility, and returning to internet users the right to control their online experience free of discrimination by powerful broadband-access providers.
“There are many pressing reasons to seat a fifth commissioner. The White House and Senate must finish this important work so the agency can repair the damage the Trump FCC created and restore everyone’s rights to connect and communicate.”