The U.S. Senate last night voted 52 to 41 to reconfirm FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to a second five-year term retroactive to July 1, 2016. (Not all 100 senators voted.) The vote followed party lines, following floor speeches from Democrats blaming Pai for trying to overturn Net Neutrality to favoring media consolidation with the pending Sinclair acquisition of Tribune.
Sen. Tom Udall was one of those who opposed Pai’s reconfirmation, saying he’s “put corporate interests first” and is “poised to dismantle” the 2015 Open Internet order. Sen. Elizabeth Warren-(D-MA) chimed in, saying “Pai has worked at breakneck speed to transform the FCC” from an agency that works on behalf of the public “to one that works for corporate interests,” specifically citing the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger. Her colleague, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said: “Under Pai the ‘FCC’ stands for ‘Forgetting Consumers and Competition.’”
Several Republicans cited Pai’s work to increase FCC transparency, ease broadband deployment and his initiatives to bridge the rural broadband gap. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) said Pai is only the second person from his home state to be nominated to the FCC. The first was Robert Wells, a fellow Republican who was a Commissioner at the agency from 1969 to 1971. Moran praised Pai’s “understanding of the challenges faced by rural America. If we want a growing economy with more jobs…we need access to the best technology.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said Pai has been “an important partner” on her quest to bring broadband to rural America. “Broadband access is critical; not having access can create insurmountable barriers” to businesses and others, she said, crediting Pai for “taking steps to modernizing the Commission’s role” and improving its daily operations. “Under his leadership, the Commission has taken steps towards closing the digital divide.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) said “rather than prolonging the back and forth” about Net Neutrality, he invited colleagues to resolve the issue and end the dispute. Noting that because of Pai, the public can now see the text of items before the agency votes on them, Thune said he’s shown a “commitment to transparency and openness that gives me great confidence [that] will lead to long-lasting results at the FCC.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
October 3, 2017