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Senate confirms Democrat to FCC

The US Senate fills the vacant seat on the Federal Communications Commission. The position had been empty for months.

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The FCC will once again have five commissioners. 

FCC

The Senate voted late Wednesday to confirm a new commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission.

Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat nominated this past summer, was confirmed in a unanimous voice vote. The Senate also reconfirmed Republican Brendan Carr. Both will serve five-year terms as commissioners.

The agency, which is supposed to consist of five members, has been operating since June with three Republicans and only one Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel. Starks is filling a seat left vacant by Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a strong net neutrality supporter. Clyburn left the agency in June after nearly nine years at the FCC.

Starks has worked as assistant chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, which is responsible for levying fines against companies that violate the commission's regulations. Before that, he worked at the US Department of Justice. 

Carr, who'd been previously confirmed for a partial term on the commission in August of 2017, had been an advisor to Chairman Ajit Pai, when Pai served as an FCC commissioner under President Barack Obama. Pai, a Republican, was appointed chairman by President Donald Trump in early 2017.

Carr's nomination had been held up by two senators who wanted commitments from the FCC over funding for rural broadband and rural health care. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, lifted his hold after the agency agreed to prioritize funding for wireless broadband in rural areas of his state. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, lifted his hold on the nomination after the FCC agreed to get its Rural Health Care program "back on track in Alaska," Sullivan said in a statement.

The FCC has made expanding broadband to rural areas of the country a key focus under Pai. It's also focused much attention on policies to speed the deployment of 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, which promises to dramatically increase speeds and help usher in new technologies, such as self-driving cars and streaming augmented reality. The agency is currently holding its first wireless-spectrum auction for 5G and will hold additional 5G auctions this year. 

"The agreement to pair and confirm these nominees finally gives us a full FCC to decide important questions about spectrum management, the deployment of broadband to underserved communities, and building next generation wireless networks," Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota and chairman of the Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

Most work at the FCC is on hold as the agency waits out the partial government shutdown. The FCC officially ceased operations Thursday after its funding ran out. It'll reopen once Trump and Democrats in Congress agree on a deal to fund the government.

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