Senate confirms Ajit Pai as FCC Chairman

Ajit Pai has been confirmed by the Senate as the Chairman of the FCC in a 52-41 vote. He has technically only been acting Chairman this whole time, as the process of confirmation generally lags well behind the succession process at the agency; the former Chairman, Tom Wheeler, stepped down shortly before the new Presidential term began, marking Pai’s de facto promotion. The vote today is his de jure assumption of the role.

The Chairman offered the following statement:

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.  Since January, the Commission has focused on bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent.  With today’s vote, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance these critical priorities in the time to come.

The process was largely a formality, as a friendly Republican majority in the Senate pretty much guaranteed Pai’s confirmation. There was vocal last-minute opposition by the likes of Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), but it was ultimately quixotic and they likely knew it. It’s clear, however, that they consider this a serious issue.

The vote wasn’t strictly along party lines, which is a little surprising. Joseph Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jon Tester (D-MT) all voted to confirm, despite Democratic leadership tending to condemn Pai’s actions against net neutrality and privacy. While these four Democrats gave ayes, no Republicans were to be found in the “nay” column.

It may be that these voting records will come back to haunt the Senators in question; the Chairman’s plan to reverse 2015’s Open Internet Order and weaken net neutrality rules is a deeply unpopular one. (Failing to vote, for or against, may also be prosecuted by angry constituents.)

FCC policies have rarely if ever been the sort of thing that people consider during elections (even last year, net neutrality was hardly mentioned) — but that’s beginning to change.