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President Trump Renominates Ajit Pai for New FCC Term

Variety logo Variety 3/7/2017 Ted Johnson
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President Trump is renominating Ajit Pai for another term at the FCC, giving a boost to the FCC chairman seven weeks after elevating him to the top post at the agency, according to industry sources.

“I am deeply honored to have been nominated by President Trump to serve a second term on the Federal Communications Commission,” Pai said in a statement.  “If I am fortunate to be confirmed by the Senate, I will continue to work with my colleagues to connect all Americans with digital opportunity, foster innovation, protect consumers, promote public safety, and make the FCC more open and transparent to the American people.”

Trump and Pai met at the White House on Monday for a meeting that was closed to the press, although an FCC official said that no pending business before the agency was discussed.

The speculation, though, was the topic of Pai’s reappointment was on the agenda. Pai was confirmed to serve as an FCC commissioner in 2012, and Trump elevated him to chair the agency in January.

But Pai’s tenure on the commission was set to expire later this year. With his renomination, he will now face Senate confirmation for another 5-year term.

The FCC currently has a 2-1 split, with Republicans commanding a majority. Pai in his first weeks has carried out an agenda of rolling back some Obama-era regulations, including aspects of privacy rules. He also has expressed his dislike of net neutrality rules passed in 2015, although he has yet to unveil any plan toward repealing it. Pai has said that he is not opposed to any regulation when it comes to the open internet, but has characterized the current approach as heavy handed. In a speech last week, he called the FCC’s current rules a “mistake.”‘

Word of Pai’s renomination drew praise from industry representatives.

“Charter congratulates Chairman Pai on his renomination to the FCC. As Chairman, he has already put points on the board on behalf of consumers including by increasing regulatory transparency and prioritizing rural broadband deployment,” said Catherine Bohigian, executive vice president of government affairs for Charter Communications. “Chairman Pai understands that regulatory stability allows businesses to grow and create jobs, spurs innovation and strengthens our economy all in the public interest.”

Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA — The Internet and Television Assn., said, “In just a few short months, Chairman Pai has embarked on a thoughtful, pro-consumer agenda that focuses on promoting Internet freedom and expanding the benefits of broadband to all Americans.” Powell is a former chairman of the FCC under President George W. Bush.

Pai is scheduled to appear on Wednesday before House and Senate committees with oversight over the FCC.

Trump still has two vacancies to fill, and that may be an issue when it comes to Democratic support for Pai’s renomination.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. said that they are “still waiting for the renomination of Commissioner Rosenworcel, and that will determine how I and other Democrats on the committee are likely to handle all nominations including Chairman Pai’s.”

Rosenworcel served on the FCC since 2012, but was forced to vacate her position at the end of 2016 after Senate Republican leadership failed to move her renomination to the floor. In his last weeks in office, President Barack Obama sent her nomination to the Senate again, but Trump rescinded that last week.

No more than three commissioners from the same party can serve on the FCC.

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