WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Monday to confirm Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in addition to a second term with the agency.
Pai’s confirmation passed 52-41, with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voting in favor of retaining Pai.
Former President Barack Obama nominated Pai in May 2012, and President Donald Trump designated him as chairman in January 2017.
Democrats have criticized Pai, a Republican, for cutting back FCC regulations, including in regards to net neutrality, the belief internet users should have equal access to all legal content and internet service providers should not charge more for certain services to be accessed.
During a speech on the Senate floor, she called Pai an “important partner” in increasing internet access and broadband speed in West Virginia.
“Without question, he has been a champion,” she said. “Without question, high-speed internet access has allowed us to connect with one another on a scale we never could have imagined a decade ago. No other technology has become so critical to our daily lives.”
Capito and Pai have twice toured West Virginia together to better understand the difficulties of internet access in rural areas of the state.
She also said Pai’s agenda includes a variety of measures the FCC, Congress, state governments and local governments could reach to ease broadband deployment.
“Broadband access will be the result of partnerships between private, local, state and federal agencies and organizations,” she said. “We need to have this collaboration to eliminate duplicative and outdated programs so that states like mine can efficiently deliver broadband to our rural communities efficiently and cost-effectively.”
Manchin said in a statement Pai has been helpful in efforts to close the digital divide, including the adoption of Mobility Fund II, a decade-long effort to maintain and increase 4G LTE coverage in areas that would be unable to without government support.
“The Mobility Fund II will provide $4.53 billion to expand broadband access in rural America, and the Remote Areas Fund has the opportunity to deliver a reliable broadband connection to over 12,000 locations across West Virginia,” Manchin said.
Some Democrats have also criticized Pai for easing regulations regarding the number of television stations a company may own, which opened the door for Sinclair Broadcast Group to submit a $3.9 billion bid to purchase Tribune Media. If the deal goes through, Sinclair would be able to reach 72 percent of the United States population.