The Senate late this afternoon voted 49-46 to confirm Republican Nathan Simington as an FCC Commissioner, ensuring the agency will have a 2-2 Commissioner split beginning on Inauguration Day, when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to leave the agency.
President Trump nominated Mr. Simington, who is currently a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to fill out the remainder of a five-year term following Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s departure. The term ends on June 30, 2024.
Blair Levin, an adviser to New Street Research LLP, suggested in a research note this week that if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they may refuse to confirm a Biden nominee to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Pai’s departure, leaving a 2-2 political split for a year before Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel would have to leave the agency at the end of the 2021 congressional session. That would give Republicans a 2-1 majority even though the FCC chair would be a Democrat—presumably Geoffrey Starks.
Democratic senators and a range of consumer interest and open Internet advocacy groups opposed Mr. Simington’s nomination, arguing that he has nearly no relevant experience for the job and that his confirmation would likely result in an indefinite deadlock at the FCC on key issues, including revisiting the FCC’s net neutrality rules. They also argued that Senate consideration of Mr. Simington’s confirmation violated a Senate tradition of voting on Commissioners in pairs—one Democrat and one Republican.
Mr. Simington’s nomination also sparked controversy over his role in NTIA’s petition asking the FCC to clarify the provisions of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
"Normally, these nominations to independent boards and commissions are paired, one Democrat and one Republican, to keep the balance on the board. But here in the waning days of a lame duck presidency, the Republican majority is rushing to approve a single Republican nominee," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) complained in remarks on the Senate floor today.
"The nominee himself is far from uncontroversial. Mr. Simington’s key qualification seems to be that he supports President Trump’s desired changes to Section 230, a law that regulates internet speech," Mr. Schumer added. "In fact, it appears that he severely misled Senators on the Commerce Committee when he told them, while working for a federal agency, he played only administrative role in his department’s petition for the repeal of Section 230. It turns out that Mr. Simington was not only pushing the petition himself, he was actively lobbying Fox News to support it—for political reasons."
"I urge this body to vote against him because he is dangerous to an agency that is supposed to be independent and above politics," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said of Mr. Simington on the Senate floor.
He called Mr. Simington "the White House’s wingman" on section 230 and said he was "the wrong person at the wrong time for the FCC. He’s unprepared and unqualified."
The purpose of the nomination is "to deadlock the Commission" and thwart efforts under a Democratic administration, Sen. Blumenthal contended.
"We definitely want the FCC to focus on commonsense consumer protections, universal broadband, the survival of our news and local journalism industry as it faces unbelievable unfair competition and practices by the tech sector, and we also want to make sure that the next President of the United States also gets to choose their member and representation to the FCC," said Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.). "The Senate has a tradition of confirming Commission nominees in pairs to assure the equality of both sides of the aisle. Moving this nominee without that Democratic pairing, I think, is contrary to what we've usually operated under in good governance. Every member of this body should be concerned about setting a precedent and what it'll mean in the future, if we don't have essential consumer protections and oversight on this important—this important institution."
But the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee defended today’s action.
"Nathan Simington’s confirmation will help ensure a balanced FCC and continued light-touch regulatory approach that has kept the internet free and open for all Americans," said Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.). "I look forward to working with him to advance U.S. leadership in 5G, expand access to broadband, and secure our nation’s communications networks."
"I am pleased that the Senate has confirmed Nathan Simington to be a Commissioner of the FCC, ensuring there will be no vacancy and that the Commission can continue to fully operate," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). "Mr. Simington will help fulfill the FCC’s mandate to defend our nation’s communications infrastructure, and he pledged to be a champion of the free enterprise system. Mr. Simington will be a critical voice as the FCC addresses matters related to our telecommunications and broadband infrastructure, threats to our national security, the runaway power of platform monopolies, and Big Tech’s pattern of political bias and censorship, and I look forward to working with him and the other Commissioners in the future."
Mr. Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr welcomed Mr. Simington to the agency.
"I congratulate Nathan on his confirmation by the U.S. Senate and look forward to welcoming him to the Commission," Mr. Pai said. "It has been the greatest honor of my professional life to serve at the FCC, and I am confident that Nathan too will enjoy the challenges and rewards of the job. Nathan was raised in a rural community, and his confirmation ensures that this important perspective will continue to be represented on the Commission for years to come as the FCC continues its work on bridging the digital divide. And with his experience at NTIA and in the private sector, Nathan is well-positioned to hit the ground running. I wish him all the best going forward."
"I want to extend my congratulations to Nathan Simington on his confirmation tonight by the UnitedStates Senate to serve on the Federal Communications Commission," Mr. Carr said. "Nathan will bring a wealth of private and public sector experience to the Commission, including having served most recently as Senior Advisor in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Once he is sworn in, I look forward to working together with him and my other colleagues on the Commission on common sense policies that will advance the public interest."
A number of industry entities congratulated Mr. Simington and welcomed today’s Senate vote, while public interest groups panned it and called for timely Senate action on a third Democratic Commissioner.
"Nathan Simington’s confirmation to the FCC risks the agency’s ability to function effectively and will likely result in painful consequences for consumers who rely on broadband—and that means everyone," said Greg Guice, director-government affairs for Public Knowledge. "We urge the next Congress to quickly confirm President-elect Biden’s nomination to fill the fifth commissioner’s seat. Americans deserve—and need—a functioning FCC now more than ever."
"Simington’s confirmation is a cynical Republican ploy to deadlock the Biden FCC," said Matt Wood, vice president-policy and general counsel of Free Press Action. "The whole point is to prevent a duly elected new administration and its appointees from getting to work. That’s unacceptable, considering everything that a Biden FCC must do to promote broadband equity, increase media diversity and ensure people can get and stay connected during this pandemic. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
MainStory: Congress FCC FederalNews InternetIoT
Interested in submitting an article?
Submit your information to us today!Learn More