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Opinion
Tara Lachapelle

FCC Vacancies Stunt Biden’s Internet Ambitions

The agency could soon be left with just one Democrat, two Republicans and two openings, a recipe for paralysis.

Jessica Rosenworcel could lead the FCC, but the clock is ticking.

Jessica Rosenworcel could lead the FCC, but the clock is ticking.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg 

The drumbeat of advocacy for universal internet access in the U.S. became louder during the Covid-19 pandemic and was amplified by Joe Biden early in his presidency as he laid out a New Deal-like vision for the future of infrastructure and connectivity. Unfortunately, though, an agency responsible for carrying out the specifics of that vision has been paralyzed by a baffling situation that could inadvertently put Republican appointees of former President Donald Trump in the driver’s seat. 

More than eight months into his term, Biden still hasn’t nominated an official leader of the Federal Communications Commission or filled the agency’s other vacancy. It’s suspected that the delay is due to more urgent matters on the White House’s agenda: the continuing public-health crisis, a partisan showdown over the debt ceiling, wrangling over the infrastructure bill and another even larger spending proposal. The FCC is supposed to have five commissioners. But if Biden doesn’t act, it could soon be left with just one Democrat, two Republicans and two vacancies. That is a formula for not accomplishing much of substance.