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President Biden has yet to nominate anyone to fill a vacant seat on the five-member FCC. What's more, the term of the current acting chairwoman is set to expire when Congress adjourns at the end of the year. That would leave a Republican majority under a Democratic administration, stymieing the party's efforts on a number of policies. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Right now the Federal Communications Commission is in a 2-2 deadlock. President Biden has the opportunity to nominate two people to the commission - one for the vacant seat and one to replace the current acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat. But Biden has yet to put forward any names.
ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN: It's executive branch malpractice coming from an administration that has thus far been distinguished by extraordinary competence.
NAYLOR: That's Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, which advocates for broadband access.
SCHWARTZMAN: Unless the acting chair can get one or two Republican votes, the FCC can't agree to anything. So it has been doing noncontroversial things and really putting off all but the essential keeping-the-trains-running-on-time kinds of responsibilities.
NAYLOR: Blair Levin is a former FCC chief of staff and is also frustrated about the lack of nominees but a bit more sympathetic to the administration.
BLAIR LEVIN: For people like me who care deeply about these issues and are involved in these issues on - you know, we care deeply about this, and we are outraged that the administration has not done this. But to be fair to the administration, they have a few other things on their plate that frankly are more important in terms of the country, so one has to be a little bit understanding.
NAYLOR: For Democrats, perhaps the top priority for the FCC is returning to the net neutrality standard set during the Obama administration and reversed under the Trump-era FCC. Democrats want to prohibit internet providers from slowing speeds to consumers or blocking content. The agency also has the responsibility to set rules for everything from 5G technology to how much prisoners can be charged for phone calls. And Levin points to the broadband expansion included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill awaiting a vote in the House.
LEVIN: One of the most important things - and it's called for in the infrastructure legislation - is for the FCC to come up with a plan to reform universal service. How do we make sure that there are networks deployed everywhere and everybody gets on them? And how do we serve critical community institutions like schools and health care facilities and libraries? That's going to be a big issue. How do we fund it? Where does the money go?
NAYLOR: A split FCC could certainly act on those issues, Levin says, but Democrats would prefer to see the discussion start with their ideas and negotiate from there. Twenty-five senators have sent a letter to the White House urging Biden to nominate Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel, originally nominated by President Obama, to another term. They argue she would face few obstacles to confirmation since the Senate has approved her before. President Biden has yet to nominate anyone to lead the Food and Drug Administration and recently had to withdraw his choice to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the face of Senate opposition. But Democrats would like to see him move on the FCC nominees, lest Republicans gain the majority on the influential panel. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Brian Naylor, NPR News.
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