A coalition of 57 public interest groups pressed U.S. President Joe Biden to fill an open seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which has remained vacant since January, arguing the move is necessary to break a political deadlock and make progress on key issues.
The five-member commission has been shorthanded since the departure of former chairman Ajit Pai on January 20. The remaining four members, led by Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, are divided evenly along political lines with two Democrats and two Republicans.
In a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the groups said leaving the agency “below full capacity…is incompatible with the goal of delivering open, affordable and reliable high-speed broadband to every home.”
“Failing to nominate a fifth commissioner leaves the FCC less than fully operational and limits its capacity to most effectively” address a range of key issues. It specifically pointed to the need for action to reform the Lifeline broadband subsidy program, provide guidance for new broadband infrastructure deployments and reclassify broadband internet as a Title II service.
“If we are to reach the goal of having a country where everyone, no matter their address or size of their bank account, has affordable access to high-speed internet, we need a full commission as soon as possible,” they wrote.
Attempts to reach the White House by phone for comment were unsuccessful.
The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Communications Workers of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, New America's Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge, among others.
Net neutrality fight
Mozilla was also among the signatories, though this is perhaps unsurprising given the mention of Title II. In 2015, the FCC classified operators as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act, allowing the agency to enforce net neutrality protections which prevented blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. These rules were subsequently overturned in December 2017, with operators being restored to classification as Title I information service providers.
In January 2018, Mozilla filed a lawsuit against the FCC aiming to have the rules reinstated. However, this effort was ultimately unsuccessful, with an appeals court largely upholding the FCC’s repeal order in October 2019.
Earlier this year, Mozilla in a blog hailed Rosenworcel’s appointment as acting chairwoman as “a new opportunity to establish net neutrality rules at the federal level in the near future.”
Rosenworcel dissented from the 2017 repeal order and in May told Marketplace that while a Congressional net neutrality solution would be “sturdier,” she believed “that the agency can move here too.”