President Trump has stayed inside his administration for who he wants to fill a soon-to-be-open seat on the Federal Communications Commission. Trump has nominated Nathan Simington to join the FCC. Simington is a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). If confirmed, he would fill the Republican seat being vacated by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly with a five-year term that would extend to June 30, 2024.
Simington is said to have played a large role in the NTIA petition that sought to reign in social media companies by seeking an FCC review of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The White House has been pushing for a reinterpretation of the statute after Twitter and other social media sites began flagging false information pushed out by President Trump.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai has put the NTIA petition out for public comment, but he has not taken a public position on the proposal. Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr has already backed requiring the social media platforms to follow the same rules as other internet service providers.
It was O’Rielly’s position on the issue that stayed closer to traditional Republican political lines and that led President Trump to withdraw his earlier re-nomination of O’Rielly to a third term. “As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders,” O’Rielly wrote in a Twitter message in May. A Media Institute speech in late-July is said to have been the final straw for administration officials. “I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech ‘defenders’,” he said.
O’Rielly has not commented on the White House move to pull his re-nomination, but in a Twitter message he wished Simington well. “I extend my sincere congrats to Mr. Simington for selection to join [the] FCC, and offer best wishes for a smooth confirmation process and successful term at the Commission,” he wrote. O’Rielly had become one of broadcasters’ key allies at the FCC during his tenure on issues like pirate radio and updating media ownership regulations.
The National Association of Broadcasters congratulated Simington on his nomination. “We wish him the best during the confirmation process and look forward to working with him on the critical issues affecting local radio and TV broadcasters should he be confirmed to the Commission,” said NAB President Gordon Smith in a statement.
Simington comes from the wireless industry. Before joining NTIA, he previously was a Senior Counsel to Brightstar Corporation where the White House says he negotiated deals with companies across the spectrum of the telecommunications and internet industry. Prior to his career with Brightstar, Simington was an attorney in private practice. The Saskatoon, Canada native became an American citizen in 2017.
The Senate has not yet announced any confirmation hearings for Simington, and the election calendar may delay any votes until later this year. Until then, O’Rielly can remain at the Commission until either Simington is confirmed or Congress adjourns in January. If he were to exit early, it would leave the Commission with a 2-2 tie among its Republican and Democratic members, a move that would stymy any controversial decisions that come up for a vote.