Week ahead: New FCC chair heads before Congress

Week ahead: New FCC chair heads before Congress
© Greg Nash

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is heading before Congress for the first time since taking over the agency.

Republican Chairman Ajit Pai will testify on Tuesday morning before the Senate Commerce Committee, joined by FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Reilly.

While GOP lawmakers are likely to praise Pai, Democrats will look to put the FCC's new boss on the hot seat.

Sure to get attention are Pai's moves to chip away at the Obama administration's landmark net neutrality rules.

So far, he's dropped a probe into data plans offered by T-Mobile and AT&T that critics said violated net neutrality's principles, and eased reporting requirements for smaller internet service providers. Republicans believe he's just getting started and will be curious for clues on Pai's next moves. At his first two open meetings at the FCC, Pai deflected questions on net neutrality. But on Tuesday, he railed against the rules calling them "outdated" in a public speech.

"The FCC decided to apply last-century, utility-style regulation to today's broadband networks," Pai said.

Democrats, though, have blasted Pai's moves on net neutrality. Sen. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDems lambaste Trump’s ‘outrageous’ EPA chemical safety pick Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting MORE (D-Mass.) has been one of his most vocal critics and can be expected to hit Pai with tough questions on Tuesday.

Dems are also likely to voice their concerns about the makeup of the FCC.

The FCC currently has two vacancies for commissioner and its unclear when President Trump will nominate another Republican and Democrat to fill those slots

The hearing comes days after Trump withdrew former President Obama's nomination of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel to another term as FCC commissioner. She previously served on the FCC from 2012 to 2017 but lawmakers failed to move on her nomination last year. Then-President Obama in a last ditch effort renominated her in January.

Several sources, including two in the telecommunications industry, say they believe Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.) will push for Rosenworcel's nomination again.

The FCC generally has a 3-2 split, with the party controlling the White House holding the majority. Commissioners from the minority party are generally tapped by that party's Senate leaders.

Those with knowledge of the matter believe Rosenworcel could still be renominated and confirmed in a deal to also confirm a Republican.

The tech world will also be watching a brewing fight over internet privacy in the week ahead.

The FCC on Wednesday voted to halt rule about to take effect which would have required internet service providers to take more stringent steps to protect consumer data. The rule was part of a broader set of broadband privacy regulations passed in October.

The FCC action under Pai comes as Republicans in Congress also push to dismantle the Obama-era internet privacy rules.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAuthorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient Republicans jockey for position on immigration McCain, Flake warn against 'politically-motivated penalties' for Canadian defense firm MORE (R-Ariz.) is planning to introduce a bill to repeal the rules through the Congressional Review Act, which would also prevent the FCC from implementing similar rules in the future. The CRA would allow Republicans to block of regulations approved near the end of the Obama administration with only a simple majority vote in both chambers.

Flake's measure has gotten some backing from other Republicans, but it remains to be seen whether it has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) to reach the floor.

Broadband infrastructure will also be a focus in the coming week.

Republican lawmakers are confident it will be included in forthcoming $1 trillion infrastructure bill from Trump. Trump, though, did not mention broadband when discussing infrastructure in his address to Congress on Tuesday

But Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnEquifax breach is the wake-up call we expected Tennessee governor considering Senate run Five major potential Senate candidates MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairwoman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on technology, said that despite Trump's omission, she wasn't worried that broadband would be left out of the package.


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