The Senate voted late Tuesday to confirm Nathan Simington’s nomination to the FCC for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2019. The vote fell along party lines 49 to 46.The result could be a deadlocked FCC 2-2 on critical issues come January when the new administration begins.
Industry representatives congratulated Simington. Both the Wireless Infrastructure Association and NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association issued favorable statements (see below.)
The Democrats put up a fight on the floor. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut urged their colleagues to reject the nomination, saying they’d prefer to go the traditional route in which FCC nominees are named in pairs, one from each party, after the new administration begins.
Blumenthal called Simington, an NTIA advisor, “unprepared and unqualified” for the job of FCC Commissioner. At the recent Senate confirmation hearing, he couldn’t answer “basic questions” from both parties, said Blumenthal.
He called Simington’s nomination by President Donald Trump “dangerous and an unprecedented assault on the independence of the FCC. We are in the middle of a pandemic. The FCC is not a household word.” The agency, he said, “affects hundreds of millions of households. The FCC will have an increasingly important role in this nation as we conquer the pandemic.”
President Trump chose Simington to replace FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for questioning Trump’s desire to have the agency curb social media actions, according to news accounts.
Blumenthal made an impassioned plea: “I fear the purpose of this nomination is to deadlock the FCC. I think big telecoms and media companies would want that. I hope this is not the result.”
Politico noted O’Rielly planned to leave the agency this week and Simington could be sworn in as soon as Friday, the day after the last FCC open meeting for 2020.
Simington’s colleagues immediately congratulated him. Outgoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted: “It has been the greatest honor of my professional life to serve at the FCC, and I am confident that Nathan, too will enjoy the challenges and rewards of the job. Nathan was raised in a rural community, and his confirmation ensures that this important perspective will continue to be represented on the Commission for years to come.”
Fellow GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr also tweeted congratulations to Simington. Carr last week called for Senate approval of Simington, otherwise Carr would be the sole Republican on the dais come January 20.
Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who analysts say will most likely be named Acting Chair in January, also offered kudos: “Serving the American people is a great honor. I look forward to working with him as we take on our nation’s most pressing digital age communications challenges.”
“We look forward to working with him on streamlining and promoting 5G deployment, making more spectrum available, and developing a workforce that is sufficiently trained to meet the demand for 5G services,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “I also commend Commissioner Mike O’Rielly for his years of dedicated and outstanding service at the FCC and his commitment to bringing advanced wireless broadband to communities across the country.”
“Over the years, NATE has established strong relationships with FCC Commissioners and their respective staff members, and looks forward to working closely with Mr. Simington on the many policy and regulatory issues facing our dynamic industry,” said NATE President/CEO Todd Schleckeway. “Looking ahead, NATE also looks forward to collaborating with the new Democrat Commissioner who is ultimately confirmed in 2021.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief