In split vote U.S. Senate confirms 2nd term for Indian-American chief of federal agency

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a second term Oct. 2, seen here with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, discussing ways to boost Internet access, close the #digitaldivide in Florida and across U.S.. (Photo: Federal Communications Commission)

In a vote split along party lines, the U.S. Senate confirmed Indian-American Ajit Varadrajan Pai, originally from Kansas, as head of the Federal Communications Commission Oct. 2. It makes Pai the highest office holder from the community. The FCC is a powerful body that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.

Pai was confirmed in a 52-41 vote in the 100-member Senate. Seven members did not vote, according to the U.S. Senate website. However, four Democrats did support Pai’s reconfirmation. Pai was first appointed FCC commissioner by President Barack Obama in 2012 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate.

Pai’s five year term is with retrospective effect from July 1, 2016 which means his term ends June 30, 2021.

“I am deeply grateful to the U.S. Senate for confirming my nomination to serve a second term at the FCC and to President Trump for submitting that nomination to the Senate,” Pai said in a statement released Oct. 2.  “Since January, the Commission has focused on bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent.  With today’s vote, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance these critical priorities in the time to come,” Pai added.

Several high profile IT leaders, entrepreneurs and activists have opposed Pai, critical of his opposition to Pai’s stand on deregulating broadband providers and eliminating net neutrality rules. An online petition by net neutrality advocacy groups on pressuring lawmakers not to confirm Pai failed.

While opponents in the Senate railed against Pai, his colleagues on FCC congratulated him on his confirmation.

“I extend my congratulations and best wishes to Chairman Ajit Pai on his reconfirmation by the United States Senate. Even when our views differ, my admiration of the Chairman’s commitment to public service remains,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to advance our shared goals.”

Two other Indian-Americans are in the running for another high office, that of Secretary of Health and Human Service, according to news reports – Trump nominee Seema Verma, who was confirmed as administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and former Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

Pai’s stated philosophy in his biography on the FCC website says he believes consumers benefit most from competition, not preemptive regulation, and that free markets have delivered more value to American consumers than highly regulated ones.

Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas and now lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife, Janine; son, Alexander; and daughter, Annabelle. He graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1994 and from the University of Chicago Law School in 1997, where he was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and won the Thomas R. Mulroy Prize. In 2010, Pai was one of 55 individuals nationwide chosen for the 2011 Marshall Memorial Fellowship, a leadership development initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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