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Groups Push Biden for Fifth FCC Commissioner

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, signs two executive orders on healthcare Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.
(Image credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Over half a hundred groups have written President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris looking to convey the "rapidly growing urgency" of getting a fifth FCC commissioner--and more importantly for them, a third Democrat--onto the FCC.

The President has yet to nominate anyone for the open seat, or decide whether to make acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel the chair or pick someone else and make them the nominee for the open seat.

Groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Writers Guild of America West signed on to the Jun 11 letter, saying the Democratic majority was needed to get on with reregulating broadcasters (media ownership regs) and broadband operators (reclassifying ISPs under Title II common carrier regs).

"[A]s we move toward the second half of 2021 with no nomination for the fifth and final commissioner, the Federal Communications Commission remains below full capacity, which is incompatible with the goal of delivering open, affordable and reliable high-speed broadband to every home," they told the President and Vice President. While Harris has no role, other than advisory, in nominations, she is in charge of the broadband infrastructure buildout, one of the issues the groups want a full commission--with a Democratic majority--to be dealing with.

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"Given the legislative calendar and the diminishing number of days for hearings and confirmation votes, we have reached a critical point to guarantee the agency charged with ensuring affordable communications access can do its work during your administration," they said.

They said failing to nominate a fifth commissioner ASAP would stall what they anticipate will be a Democratic FCC's moves to "halt the dangerous trend towards consolidated ownership in broadcasting by reasserting principles of localism, competition and ownership diversity," and "reclassifying broadband internet access as a Title II service to ensure fair and equitable access for everyone and to reinstate strong net neutrality protections."

Numerous FCC watchers have been scratching their heads over the lack of a fifth commissioner nominee five months into the new administration, offering no suggestions for the hold-up.

A number of candidates have been talked about for that key fifth Democratic seat, including:

Edward “Smitty” Smith, a partner at law firm DLA Piper who has experience with overseeing multibillion-dollar broadband subsidies at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and at the FCC, as an adviser to the Broadcast Incentive Auction Task Force.

Anna Gomez of D.C. powerhouse law firm Wiley, whose namesake is former FCC chairman Dick Wiley and whose alumni include numerous former FCC commissioners including another former chairman, Republican Kevin Martin. Gomez is also a former top official at the NTIA, the White House’s chief communications policy advisory arm.

Others signing on to the letter included Common Cause, Free Press Action, Public Knowledge and United Church of Christ.