December 10, 2020
The Senate confirmed Nathan Simington as a new Republican FCC member in a 49-to-46 vote. The confirmation comes as FCC chair Ajit Pai prepares to exit his post in January. In the run-up to the vote, Simington vowed “regulatory stability” and an openness to reexamining Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. With Simington, the five-member FCC could be deadlocked at the beginning of 2021, with two Democrats and two Republicans, possibly limiting its ability to carry out president-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
The Washington Post reports that, “the deadlock could slow or stall work on restoring net neutrality rules, which require Internet providers to treat all Web traffic equally, and other longtime Democratic priorities.” How long this deadlock lasts depends on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia for control of the U.S. Senate.
According to Benton Institute for Broadband & Society senior counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman, should the GOP control the Senate, it would “tie things up for an extended period of time, perhaps indefinitely” at the FCC.
Meanwhile, President Trump continues to attack Silicon Valley over alleged political bias against conservatives. After he withdrew nomination of GOP sitting commission Michael O’Rielly over a speech that “raised red flags about government intervention in online content moderation,” Trump instead nominated Simington, “an aide at the Commerce Department who played a critical role in carrying out Trump’s executive order over the summer that sought to expand the U.S. government’s power to police online speech.”
Since then, “the president took an unexpected interest in his confirmation, tweeting repeatedly that the Senate needed to act to confirm him for the FCC.” Trump also recently “threatened to veto an annual defense policy bill unless it repeals” Section 230.
CNET reports that, “many Democrats and advocacy groups also say Simington is unqualified for the job,” with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) calling him “conflicted, unprepared and unqualified.”
Public Knowledge, Fight for the Future, and MediaJustice are also protesting, with Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer stating, “it’s clear that [Simington] would likely use his post to continue Trump’s senseless attacks on the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, one of the most important laws protecting free expression and human rights in the digital age.”
The two Democrats on the FCC — Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks — “oppose plans to make rules under Section 230,” saying the FCC has no authority to do so. Simington served briefly at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as a senior advisor.