President Trump this week nominated Federal Communications Commission General Counsel Brendan Carr, a Republican, to the seat on the five-member commission vacated by former chairman Tom Wheeler. The nomination, which requires approval from the U.S. Senate, stipulates that Carr fill out Wheeler’s term ending June 30, 2018, and be reappointed to the subsequent five-year term beginning July 1, 2018.
The Senate is also set to confirm Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, also nominated by Trump, whose initial five-year term on the FCC ended last year. If both are appointed, the FCC would have a 3-2 Republican majority with Carr joining Chairman Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly in the majority, leaving Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn in the minority.
According to his official biography, Carr served as “lead advisor” to Pai on wireless, public safety and international issues, prior to taking the role of generation counsel. Prior to working directly with Pai, Carr worked in the FCC’s Office of General Counsel “where he provided legal advice on a wide range of spectrum policy, competition and public safety matters.” Before that he worked as a private sector attorney for firm Wiley Rein LLP.
Since ascending to the chairman role, Pai has looked to dismantle net neutrality rules adopted when Wheeler was at the helm. In May the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review its decision upholding open internet rules, citing the fact that the FCC has announced plans to repeal the rules. The FCC is in the midst of preparing a notice of proposed rulemaking that will explain how it wants to eliminate net neutrality laws. Pai has said the NPRM will seek comment on how the FCC should roll back the existing law. The agency proposes to return the classification of broadband service from a Title II telecommunications service to a Title I information service. In addition, the FCC wants to eliminate the so-called internet conduct standard — the standard the FCC used to warrant its investigation of T-Mobile’s Binge On and other services that offer consumers zero-rated data from select content platforms. Those investigations are on hold. Thirdly, the FCC is seeking comment on how it should approach the so-called “bright line” rules, which ban blocking of content, throttling and paid prioritization.
“A lot of that will depend on the direction that the chairman takes,” Clyburn said in May at the Wireless Infrastructure Show in response to a question asking whether there’s an opportunity for a compromise that keeps some of the current net neutrality rules in place. “There’s so many potential moving parts. We will wait to hear and see how that docket is built. There is always ‘legislative backslide’ that could emerge. If I could see into the future, I promise you I would be richer, thinner and owning some tropical island. What I know is anything we have been the beneficiaries of in terms of this enabling platform did not happen by accident. It happened because there was a framework laid out. People keep forgetting, all these things that enable you to build, enable us to connect, enable us to be more prosperous, all these things came about because there were clear rules to the road.”