On Monday evening, the Senate voted 52-41 to reconfirm Ajit Pai for a four-year term as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, despite pushback from Democrats who took issue with his controversial position on net neutrality.
Pai served as FCC commissioner before President Donald Trump tapped him to chair the organization in January. His positions on internet regulation and other telecom issues have made him a frequent target of Democrats, who have delayed a vote on Pai’s reconfirmation even though he was approved by committee in early August.
Before working his way up the FCC, Pai held a variety of legal roles in Senate committees and the Justice Department. He was unanimously appointed FCC commissioner in 2012, and he also previously served as associate general counsel at Verizon Communications.
Democrats used the time leading up to Monday afternoon’s vote to rail against the chairman’s stances on issues like net neutrality and media consolidation.
Much of Democrats disapproval of Pai stems from his stated desire to roll back an Obama-era expansion of Title II of the Communications Act that bars companies from granting users faster speeds for certain sites while slowing speeds or blocking others.
While Pai calls the regulations “heavy-handed” and claims they burden small broadband companies with compliance work, opponents argue that rolling back the rules will allow providers to charge users and sites for faster online speeds, destroying net neutrality and stifling growth of small companies who cannot pay to compete with online giants like Facebook, Netflix and Google.
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In recent days, a number of notable Democrats from the Congressional Internet Caucus took to the Senate floor to air their grievances regarding Pai, including Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
“Net neutrality has sparked the flames of innovation and commerce on the internet,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on the floor Thursday. “We should be building on net neutrality, not walking it back. I believe what Mr. Pai [intends to do] is a significant retreat from the freedom and openness that the internet is all about.”
Pai also came under fire for a number of other issues, including his support for the Sinclair-Tribune merger, which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said highlighted his concern for the well-being of corporations over that of everyday Americans.
Pai, however, received nearly unanimous support from Republicans, who cited his extensive tenure within the FCC and the efforts he’s taken to make the organization more transparent.
“He has already shown a commitment to ensuring transparency and openness at the Commission that gives me great confidence in the direction he will lead the agency,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which originally approved Pai’s reconfirmation. “Chairman Pai’s new approach I believe will lead to more long-lasting and positive results at the FCC. That is why I believe the elevation of Ajit Pai to be the Chairman of the Commission is a much-needed breath of fresh air.”
Four Democrats joined Republicans in voting to confirm Pai: Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.