As widely predicted, the Senate today voted to reconfirm FCC chairman Ajit Pai, allowing him to continue in the role for four more years.
Pai, a Republican member of the FCC elevated to the top post by President Trump in January, has spearheaded deregulation efforts in the telecom industry since taking over. Most significantly, he has moved to roll back net neutrality rules, a plan widely criticized by consumer advocacy organizations.
A campaign was mounted to block Pai’s reconfirmation, and during a floor debate, Democratic senators criticized Pai’s agenda. But with a Republican-led Senate, the approval seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Pai was ultimately reconfirmed by a 52 to 41 vote. The reconfirmation retroactively confirms him for a five-year term that began in July 2016, allowing him to stay in the chairman role through Trump’s current term, and perhaps until 2021.
Ahead of the vote, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized Pai for his laissez-faire approach to media consolidation, and pointed to regulations ended by Pai that benefited conservative TV station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group. Warren said, when Trump nominated Pai, “Sinclair got exactly what it wanted.”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), in contrast, praised Pai’s efforts at the agency, and said he was pleased that he had “sought to hit the reset button” on debates over net neutrality rules.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), citing Pai’s deregulatory crusade against the current net neutrality rules, said last week that she would be voting against his reconfirmation. In a speech, she said Pai had shown “disdain” for “important public interest principles.” “He’s taken actions that I think will have consumers paying more for less [internet] access,” Cantwell said on the floor today, adding that “plans to protect net neutrality and an open internet will be reversed.”
“I am deeply grateful to the U.S. Senate for confirming my nomination to serve a second term at the FCC and to President Trump for submitting that nomination to the Senate,” Pai said in a statement.