Five years ago, the Senate approved Republican Ajit Pai to the Federal Communications Commission by unanimous consent.
Pai, who took over as chairman this year, is now up for re-appointment -- and this time around the decision won't be unanimous. Lawmakers including Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Maria Cantwell (Washington), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and Chuck Schumer (New York) this week called for Pai's ouster.
"While Ajit Pai has devoted many years to public service, I cannot support his nomination," Markey said Thursday morning on the Senate floor. He added that under Pai, the FCC stands for "Forgetting Consumers and Competition."
Critics say Pai has repeatedly espoused positions that favor broadband providers, like his former employer, Verizon, at the expense of consumers. For example, late last year he famously promised to take a "weed whacker" to the prior FCC's regulations, including the net neutrality rules.
Those rules reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations on broadband providers, including bans on blocking or throttling service and charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery.
The FCC Chair recently proposed rolling back the regulations by reclassifying broadband as an "information" service -- although doing so may also deprive the FCC of the authority to enforce the other rules, including the bans on blocking or throttling service and paid fast lanes.
Pai also vocally opposed the former FCC's broadband privacy rules, which would have required broadband providers to obtain subscribers' explicit consent before drawing on their Web-surfing activity for ad targeting. Congress repealed those rules before the FCC had the opportunity to repeal them, but Pai made no secret of his desire to do so.
The Senate on Thursday reportedly voted 55-41 to move ahead with Pai's confirmation vote, which is expected to take place Monday. Of course, with Republicans in control of the Senate, Pai's re-appointment may well be a foregone conclusion. But despite the apparent politicization of broadband on Capitol Hill, broadband policy isn't a partisan issue with the public.
Earlier this year, a survey by Huffington Post and YouGov showed that more than 70% of Republicans and Democrats wanted President Donald Trump to veto Congress's repeal of the broadband privacy rules.
In June, Mozilla reported that 81% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans supported net neutrality. Those numbers came from a poll of 1,000 Americans carried out with Ipsos; pollsters defined net neutrality as "the principle that internet service providers providing consumer connection to the Internet should treat all data on the internet the same, not giving specific advantages or penalties in access by user, content, website, platform, or application.”
Just this week, Consumer Reports released survey results showing that 67% of 1,000 Americans surveyed think broadband providers shouldn't be able to block websites, apps or streaming services. A slightly smaller proportion -- 63% -- said providers shouldn't be allowed to modify the material consumers access online.