Pai’s FCC Nomination Clears Hurdle Before Final Senate Vote

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By Tara Jeffries

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s nomination to a new term cleared a Senate procedural hurdle Sept. 28, putting Pai on a glide path to confirmation.

Lawmakers voted 55-41 to limit debate on the nomination. Six Democrats voted in favor of limiting debate. The Senate likely will confirm Pai by next week.

Some Senate Democrats seized the chance to voice their opposition to Pai’s policies, including his plan to rewrite net neutrality rules that forbid internet service providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing data flowing across their networks in most circumstances.

“If Ajit Pai gets his way, a handful of big broadband companies will serve as gatekeepers to the internet,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said. He also criticized Pai’s removal of some providers from the FCC’s Lifeline phone and broadband subsidy program earlier in the year, and said Pai would clear the way for media mega-mergers such as Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Co.

Although Republicans can process Pai’s nomination without supermajority support, they would need Democratic backing to pass any net neutrality legislation in the Senate. Any efforts on a net neutrality bill are “to be determined,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told Bloomberg BNA.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also decried the FCC’s planned net neutrality rule rewrite.

“He’s talking about blowing up this notion of a level playing field that is so crucial to innovation and free speech online,” Wyden said.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), one of the Democrats who voted to limit debate on Pai’s nomination, told reporters he did so despite “reservations about his positions on net neutrality.” Peters said he has working with Pai on “issues related to rural broadband” in Michigan.

Republicans defended Pai’s agenda, including his push to expand broadband access to more rural Americans.

Pai’s “stellar career in communications policy, his integrity, and his tireless work ethic all serve him well,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce panel, said.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Jeffries at tjeffries@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

[With assistance from Shaun Courtney]

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