Democrats used the opportunity to criticize Pai over a proposal to roll back the foundation of net neutrality rules, and moves to ease media ownership rules. The latter FCC actions helped clear the way for Sinclair Broadcast Group to reach a deal to acquire Tribune’s stations, creating a broadcasting giant with a near-national reach.
President Donald Trump appointed Pai chairman of the FCC in January, and nominated him to another five-year term in March.
Pai’s confirmation is not in doubt, but the nomination process is usually a formality when it comes to FCC slots. The Senate voted 55-41 to end the debate on his renomination, and a final vote is expected by early next week.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that Pai’s actions during his tenure as chairman have been “paving the way for a massive consolidation among radio and TV broadcast stations.”
He also cited “the elephant in the room,” or a proposal that would remove the regulatory underpinnings of net neutrality. A vote is expected by the end of the year.
“The vast majority of the actions of Chairman Pai have served to eliminate competitive protections, threaten dangerous industry consolidation, make the internet less free and less open, and weaken critical consumer protections for those most vulnerable,” Nelson said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that Pai was a “breath of fresh air” after the tenure of his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, who he complained had pursued policies with a much greater than normal partisan split at the agency.