A high-ranking Senator has thrown a roadblock in Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s path to a new term at the Federal Communications Commission. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he is placing a hold on O'Rielly's re-nomination unless the commissioner agrees to vote to overturn an FCC order that granted permission to Ligado to repurpose spectrum for a terrestrial-based cellular network.
The decision “threatens critical GPS & satellite communications signals,” Inhofe said in a tweet on Tuesday. The worry is the repurposed spectrum could cause harmful interference to military and public aviation, which use the signals for aircraft communications. The FCC decision is also opposed by the Pentagon, other U.S. agencies and a group of 32 Senators, according to The New York Times. The Transportation Department said it could cost federal users of the spectrum and private users of GPS "tens of billions of dollars.”
Although just one senator can hold up a full-Senate vote on a nomination, holds on FCC nominations aren’t unusual. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) placed one on Republican Brendan Carr’s re-nomination in late 2018. Holds were also placed on commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.
O’Reilly, one of broadcasters’ key allies at the FCC on issues like pirate radio and updating media ownership regulations, seemed to reference the issue in a speech before the Media Institute’s Luncheon Series Wednesday. Clarifying his introduction by Media Institute President & CEO Rick Kaplar, O’Rielly said, “With deep appreciation, my nomination was approved last week by the Senate Commerce Committee. While this is great news, I still have another significant step ahead — consideration by the full Senate — before I can serve a new FCC term.”
When O’Rielly was nominated by President Obama in 2013, he filled the remainder of one term and then secured his second full term in 2015. That term expired in June 2019, but by tradition commissioners are permitted to continue to serve until the close of the current session of Congress. President Trump then re-nominated O’Rielly to another full term in March. If he is confirmed by the Senate, O’Rielly’s new term would extend to June 30, 2024.