By a partisan vote of 52-41 conducted Monday, members of the U.S. Senate confirmed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to serve an additional term at the FCC to expire in June 2021.
Just before adjourning for the Congressional summer recess in August, Senate Democrats stalled a vote on Pai's nomination to a full, five-year term as FCC Chairman despite having voted in favor of the nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr to serve as FCC commissioners. Taking up Pai's delayed confirmation during floor debate on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (DHI), Ed Markey (D-MA) and other Democrats in protesting Pai's recent proposal to roll back Title II classification of broadband access services and other FCC actions under Pai's leadership which they believe will harm consumers and competition. As Schumer criticized Pai's support of "congressional attempts to reverse the FCC's 2016 broadband privacy rule," Schatz proclaimed that "we need an independent chairman at the helm of the FCC" who "will make decisions based on statute, not based on political affiliation." However, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (RSD) spoke for other Republicans in defending Pai's decision to "hit the reset button" on Title II classification as he commended Pai's efforts to promote transparency in the FCC's regulatory processes as "a breath of fresh air." While praising Pai as "a capable and talented leader," Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) emphasized that Congress "must craft bipartisan legislation that preserves the fair and open Internet."
Although representatives of public interest groups joined Senate Democrats in voicing their concerns with Pai's record at the FCC, key players throughout the telecommunications and cable industries applauded the results of Monday's confirmation vote. Declaring that Pai "has consistently demonstrated a thoughtful approach to policymaking that promotes consumer welfare through marketplace competition and innovation," National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell told reporters that his organization looks forward to working with Pai "and all members of the Commission in pursing policies that . . . promote the continued growth of new networks and services." Along a similar vein, Meredith Atwell Baker, the CEO of wireless association CTIA, asserted that Pai "understands the needs for smart policies to spur investment, innovation and growth and the importance of America continuing to lead the world in wireless," especially as carriers continue the transition to fifth-generation network technologies.
The Senate's vote was also welcomed by Pai's colleagues at the FCC. Observing that Pai's "leadership as Chairman has brought greater openness and thoughtfulness to our proceedings," FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said, "I look forward to continuing our work to advance a pro-growth, less regulatory communications environment that best serves the consumer." As she extended her congratulations and best wishes to Pai, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn reflected that, "even when our views differ, my admiration of [Pai's] commitment to public service remains." While voicing his gratitude to his supporters in the Senate, Pai told reporters that the FCC "has focused on bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent . . . [and] I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance these critical priorities."