WASHINGTON — The Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission despite Democratic complaints that Ajit Pai will undermine net neutrality.
The vote was 52-41 on Monday for Pai, who has served as a commissioner at the FCC since 2012.
The nomination turned into a proxy fight over Obama-era net neutrality rules established in 2015. Those rules mean service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast must treat all content the same and not favor their own websites and apps over others, such as a movie streaming service. Pai has tried to roll the rules back, drawing more than 22 million comments and ire from Democrats.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., warned that Pai “will do an enormous amount of damage to one of the foundational principles of the internet — net neutrality.”
“‘Net neutrality’ means that after you have paid your internet access fee, you get to go where you want, when you want, and how you want,” Wyden said. “We are not going to have some kind of information aristocracy in our society whereby the affluent have access to some kind of technological treasure trove, and folks who do not have much are kind of stuck with what almost resembles dial-up.”
The rules, opposed by Republicans and telecom companies and supported by consumer advocacy groups in Washington and internet companies, were upheld by a federal appeals court in 2016.
In defense of Pai, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said he is “working to establish the light-touch regulatory framework that allowed the internet to become the marvel of the modern age, keeping it free and open for consumers, innovators and providers. Internet technology will continue to thrive if we keep the heavy hand of government away from the controls.”
Democrats also are wary of Pai loosening media regulations that cap how many TV stations one company can own, especially as the agency evaluates conservative-leaning broadcaster Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune Media.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., praised Pai as an “important partner in my quest to bring rural America in much of my state online.”
Four Democrats joined Republicans in backing the nomination — Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Gary Peters of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Associated Press writer Tali Arbel in New York contributed to this report.