FCC's O'Rielly Nomination Advances to Full Senate

(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—The nomination of Republican FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly for a new, five-year term at the FCC has been favorably reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee and now moves to the full Senate for a vote.  

That came by voice vote Wednesday (July 22), but with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) voting no, even though, procedural, she was the one to propose that it be reported favorably. Also asked to be recorded as "no" on the O'Rielly nomination were Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Michael Schaatz (D-Hawaii).

In explaining her no vote, Cantwell pointed out that in 2018, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that O'Rielly had violated the Hatch Act (opens in new tab) with political comments made at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).*

O'Rielly was issued a warning letter that a repeat of such statements could incur more than a warning. O'Rielly countered that he disagreed that an offhand remark was a violation, but said he took the warning seriously.

Cantwell also said that O'Rielly "had recently injected, I believe, politics into part of the spectrum issue," which she said she found "disturbing." She did not elaborate. 

In contrast, Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he looked forward to advancing O'Rielly's nomination. He said he appreciated O'Rielly's commitment to the speedy deployment of broadband, particularly given the pandemic and the greater reliance on connectivity, as well as his commitment to insuring it was targeted to areas that need it most.  

Like his fellow Republicans, O'Rielly wants the FCC to focus on the unserved first, rather than overbuilding existing service. 

O'Rielly's term expired at the end of June 2019, but commissioners can continue to serve until the close of the next Congress. The new term would date from July 1, 2019.  

O'Rielly, who has been on the FCC since 2013, is a conservative former Hill staffer who generally favors deregulation, including of ISPs, and lifting media ownership rules given the rise of competition from cable and broadband and satellite, and was instrumental in loosening KidVid regs on TV stations.    

He has also pushed for the FCC to collect better data (opens in new tab) on broadband availability before handing out billions for 5G buildouts. 

* Asked at a CPAC panel session how to avoid the regulatory issue ping-pong of changing administrations, O'Rielly said: "I think what we can do is make sure as conservatives that we elect good people to both the House, the Senate, and make sure that President Trump gets reelected." O'Rielly told the special counsel he was not advocating for the President's election but meant to relay the point that "the only way to retain that current outcome was to maintain the current leaders in government. In other words, retaining the current Administration is the only sure way to prevent regulatory ping-ponging.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio WorldTV TechTV FaxThis Week in Consumer ElectronicsVariety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.