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Senate OKs Two New FCC Commissioners

Alan Breznick

After operating with just three commissioners for more than half a year, the Federal Communications Commission will return to full strength with the confirmation of two new commissioners by the US Senate.

In what has become an increasingly rare bipartisan move, the Senate unanimously approved the nominations of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Brendan Carr by a simple voice vote Thursday afternoon. They will fill the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's two open slots, leaving the Republicans with a 3-2 voting edge.

The two approvals came after some last-minute wrangling between Senate Republicans and Democrats over Carr's nomination. While Republicans wanted to confirm Carr for two terms -- the remainder of his predecessor's term that will expire at the end of next year and a full five-year term after that -- Democrats favored restricting him to just the first term. In the end, the Democrats won this battle.

For Rosenworcel, the vote means that she will return to an agency where she served for four years under former President Barack Obama, only to depart at the end of last year when her first term expired. Although she was strongly supported by many congressional Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and received unanimous approval from the Senate Commerce Committee, the panel's chairman, John Thune (R-S.D.), never brought her nomination for a second term to the Senate floor. (See FCC on the Verge of 2-2 Split.)

For Carr, the new role represents a promotion at the agency: A former lawyer for the nation’s top telecom companies, he previously served as general counsel to the FCC under current Republican Chairman Ajit Pai.

Representing different ends of the political spectrum, the two new commissioners will likely do battle with each other early and often. Most notably, they will undoubtedly clash over net neutrality and the FCC's Open Internet Order, which Rosenworcel strongly supported under former Chairman Tom Wheeler and Carr is expected to oppose as a close ally of the new chairman. Pai is now seeking to scrap the order and eliminate the Commission's strict Title II regulations for broadband providers. (See Is Pai Filling FCC Role? and Net Neutrality, Here We Go Again.)

President Trump has nominated Pai for another five-year term on the Commission. The Senate Commerce Committee approved that nomination Wednesday but the full Senate did not vote on his renewal Thursday before adjourning for its summer recess.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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