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FCC’s Pai Confirmed to New Term

Chairman gets additional five-year hitch

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday got Senate confirmation to a new, five-year, term on the commission, retroactive to the June 2016 expiration of his previous term.

The vote was a relatively close and politically divided one at 52 to 41, and came after numerous Democrats took to the floor — they were the majority of speakers on the nomination — to criticize Pai and his policies and say they would be voting against the nomination.

For Dems, it appeared to be a referendum on net neutrality and the Sinclair/Tribune merger proposal and Republican deregulatory policies in general.

The debate was somewhat curtailed by events, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), for example, a big critic of Pai, using his time to speak about other things, including the horrific Las Vegas shooting, and instead entering his input on Pai in the record.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) stood up for the Republican chairman, citing transparency efforts and saying he was pleased that Pai had hit the reset button on net neutrality rules (while putting in a plug for legislation solutions to the FCC’s net neutrality regulatory authority). Thune said he could think of no one better to lead he FCC.

But several Democratic senators laid into the chairman, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sen Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), with Udall arguably spending the most floor time hammering the nomination.

ISPs also got some grief from Democrats, who said the companies were trying to protect fast and slow lanes on the internet and wanting to control the internet for their own economic gain.

But at the end of the day, Pai will continue atop the agency and further a deregulatory agenda.

Also using the platform to clobber Pai was Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the biggest backers of the Title II-based net neutrality rules that Pai has proposed to roll back (Title II classification) and reconsider (the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization).

After a lengthy statement calling for banning automatic weapons like those used in Las Vegas and requiring background checks, Markey lit into Pai. He said Pai has stood up for big corporations and redefined FCC as Forgetting Consumers and Competition. Essentially he reprised the criticisms he leveled from the floor last week.

But the result of Pai’s vote was never really in doubt, and fans were celebrating Monday.

“I am exceptionally pleased that Chairman Pai has been approved for a new commission term by the U.S. Senate,” said fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. “To date, his leadership as chairman has brought greater openness and thoughtfulness to our proceedings. In the months and years ahead, I look forward to continuing our work to advance a pro-growth, less regulatory communications environment that best serves the consumer.”

“We offer hearty congratulations to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for being reconfirmed for another term at the FCC,” said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter. “Chairman Pai is himself a parent, and he understands first-hand the need to protect children from explicit, harmful and age-inappropriate content. It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with him and his staff in recent years; and we look forward to continuing our constructive working relationship with him and the entire FCC under his leadership in the years ahead, especially to ensure that the broadcast indecency law is enforced and that the TV Content Ratings System is fully serving the needs of parents.”

Michael Powell, CEO of NCTA — The Internet & Television Association, said in a statement: “We congratulate Ajit Pai on his confirmation for a new five-year term. During his tenure at the FCC, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a thoughtful approach to policymaking that promotes consumer welfare through marketplace competition and innovation. We share Chairman Pai’s vision for policies aimed at spurring continued investment and expanding opportunity for all Americans, and we look forward to working with him and all members of the commission in pursuing policies that protect consumers and promote the continued growth of new networks and services.”

Broadcasting & Cable