New Republican Commissioner Set to Join FCC Following Senate Confirmation

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the appointment of a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner. Current leader Ajit Pai gave notice of his resignation last month, CNBC recounted in a Nov. 30 article.

Over Senate Democrats’ objections, Nathan Simington, a Republican, was confirmed in a 49-to-46 vote, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The confirmation comes after Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, had his nomination to serve another term withdrawn by the Trump administration in August, Reuters reported.

According to the Washington Post, the hasty move to confirm Simington threatens to sandbag the incoming Biden administration’s telecommunications agenda. The news outlet explained that the move may create a “political deadlock,” leaving the normally five-member agency with two Democrats and two Republicans. The Washington Post wrote that the lack of a voting majority could inhibit president-elect Biden from carrying out his party’s goals, like reinstating net neutrality rules, which mandate that internet providers “treat all web traffic equally.”

Control of the Senate and the results of two runoff elections in Georgia are determinate of the deadlock’s duration, the Washington Post explained. Should Democrats control the Senate, the new presidential administration will be able to nominate and confirm an appointee without issue, otherwise, it may not be so easy.

According to the same article, Simington stated that he would take a hands-off approach to the telecom industry at a Senate hearing last month. Simington reportedly said that he would be “thoughtful about potential chilling effects on development if the FCC’s regulatory efforts go over the line and become intrusive, disruptive and burdensome.”

The news outlet also described how Simington’s nomination became a cause of concern for Democrats. Reportedly, his past work and comments on political speech caused party leaders to try and thwart his nomination on the basis that he was not politically independent.

Chairman Pai is set to leave the FCC on Jan. 20, 2021, at which point Simington will take over.