President Trump’s nominee to join the Federal Communications Commission was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, setting up a possible partisan deadlock at the telecommunications regulator when Democrats take power next year.
The Republican-led Senate voted 49-46 along party lines to approve
for a five-year term on the FCC.
Mr. Simington, a 41-year-old Republican lawyer currently serving in the Trump administration, appears likely to clash with Democrats over issues from “net neutrality” rules to the agency’s role in overseeing social-media content moderation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
a Republican, has said he is leaving the agency on Jan. 20, President-elect
That could leave the bipartisan commission with two Democratic and two Republican members, including Mr. Simington. Mr. Biden can immediately designate one of the sitting Democratic commissioners as chair. But the agency’s new leader wouldn’t hold a 3-2 majority until Mr. Biden names, and the Senate approves, a fifth FCC member—a process that could stretch months if Republicans control the Senate.
‘The FCC should be truly an independent agency that serves the public interest, not a political football.’
An FCC deadlocked along partisan lines could take longer than usual to approve telecommunications-related mergers or to make additional wireless frequencies available for next-generation networks, policy analysts at New Street Research wrote in a note to clients this week.
Democrats have criticized Republicans for moving forward with the nomination during a lame-duck session of Congress, rather than allowing Mr. Biden to make the choice.
The moves to advance Mr. Simington “break all the rules and norms, and the FCC should be truly an independent agency that serves the public interest, not a political football,” said
Sen. Richard Blumenthal
(D., Conn.) during a virtual event Monday hosted by the advocacy group Fight for the Future, which opposes Mr. Simington’s nomination.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) said Mr. Simington’s confirmation “will help ensure a balanced FCC and continued light-touch regulatory approach that has kept the internet free and open for all Americans.”
Since mid-2020, Mr. Simington has served as a senior adviser in the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, working on issues including opening up radio frequency spectrum for commercial use.
Before that, he held associate positions at several law firms, working on financial matters. His most recent position before entering government was senior corporate counsel at Brightstar Corp. a wireless-services company in Miami.
Mr. Simington told the Senate Commerce Committee last month he saw “no reason” to change the FCC’s approach to the regulation of internet-access services, a signal he could oppose Democrats’ expected efforts to restore net-neutrality rules that Republicans recently dismantled. The rules, if reinstated, would require internet-access providers to treat content equally. Cable and telephone companies have opposed them.
The FCC “must be thoughtful about potential chilling effects on development if its regulatory efforts go over the line and become intrusive, disruptive and burdensome,” Mr. Simington said.
Democrats at the FCC have also said they don’t believe the agency should be involved in interpreting Section 230, a law shielding internet companies from liability for user-generated content. Mr. Trump has pushed for the FCC to write a rule interpreting Section 230, a move that could lead to the FCC exercising more oversight over how companies moderate content.
Mr. Simington told the Senate panel that during his time at the NTIA, he helped edit and discuss public-relations strategy regarding a petition the NTIA sent to the FCC asking for the Section 230 rule making, in support of Mr. Trump’s efforts. He declined to take a position on what the FCC should do and resisted the notion that he would be acting at the White House’s behest, saying that while he discussed Section 230 briefly with the White House before he was nominated, that discussion didn’t pertain to any specific FCC action.
Democrats have said that Mr. Simington’s work on Section 230 appears to be his main qualification for the job, noting his relatively brief previous government service and the fact that he was nominated only after Mr. Trump withdrew the nomination of
an outgoing Republican FCC commissioner who had raised concerns about the Trump administration’s efforts to regulate social-media companies.
Mr. Simington has previously told Senators his experience in the public and private sector prepares him for the post.
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