Way back in July, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping new anti-trust executive order intended “to promote competition in the American economy, which will lower prices for families, increase wages for workers, and promote innovation and even faster economic growth.” The order encompassed directives to the Justice Department, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and other agencies to implement 72 specific provisions that would achieve those goals.
The immediate problem with the potentially transformational orders back in July was that Biden hadn’t yet filled all those agencies with the necessary staff to enact these measures. That is still a big problem for the administration, and for congressional Democrats who need partners in the administration. In one critical instance (the FCC), that lack of urgency is endangering the administration’s goals.
As of now, the FCC is lacking a fifth commissioner and its chair, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, is serving temporarily as interim director, a position that ends at the end of the year unless Biden formally nominates her and she is confirmed. The real danger is that the FCC majority would then be handed over to Republicans by default—they’d have a 2-1 majority.
Rosenworcel’s official appointment expired in June 2020, and her temporary appointment expires at the end of this year. With government funding and a long-term debt ceiling solution hanging over the Senate, not to mention the budget resolution for Biden’s whole economic and social Build Back Better agenda, the time for confirming appointees is shrinking. Biden needs to appoint the chair and a fifth commissioner—until then it’s deadlocked 2-2, with the Republicans on the commission in a position to block any of Biden’s consequential plans.
The situation has congressional Democrats worried and impatient. “There’s no good excuse,” New Mexico Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, told Politico. “I’m absolutely fearful that what the administration is setting up is a 2-1 Republican majority FCC under a Democratic administration. That is unacceptable.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, agrees. He, Luján, and nearly two dozen other Democrats wrote to Biden last month asking him to just please hurry up and make Rosenworcel’s appointment official and permanent. “We’re in a hurry,” he said. All the way back in May, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell was asking Biden to “go faster” on these nominations. So were Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Anna Eschoo and any number of Democrats who don’t get why Biden hasn’t acted. Yeah, this is another ‘Dems in Disarray’ story for Politico, but it’s also a rather big and valid issue.
Biden had big plans for the FCC including, but not limited to, a restoration of the net neutrality rules the Obama FCC implemented and Trump’s FCC rescinded. It also “encourages” the FCC to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from making exclusive deals or collusive arrangements with landlords to shut out competition from other ISPs. It directs the FCC to reinstate a “Broadband Nutrition Label” which “provides basic information about the internet service offered so people can compare options,” increasing transparency and requiring providers to report prices and subscription rates to the FCC. It also directs the FCC to limit excessive early termination fees that ISPs charge people for switching providers.
Which is all very good stuff! And needs a full complement of FCC commissioners—three Democrats and two Republicans, who can be out-voted—to pass!
There is a lot of tea-leaf reading in this Politico story about who does and doesn’t support Rosenworcel and whether there’s some crazy leftist cadre of Democrats who are opposing her because “half the Senate’s Democrats didn’t sign onto the most recent pro-Rosenworcel letter, which was led by Sen. Joe Manchin,” including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. There might be some deeper meaning behind that, or maybe they just weren’t available or didn’t have senior staff around who felt comfortable signing on. Whatever. The main thing at this point is that the two positions get filled.