Senate Confirms Starks, Carr to FCC

After holds from Democrats that were lifted late last year, the Senate has confirmed FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr to a full, five-year term and has confirmed Democrat Geoffrey Starks to the open seat.

Both had already been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, Starks in June and Carr a year ago this month for his current hitch filling out an unexpired term (see below).

The House does not have to follow suit, so once they are sworn in, which could happen ASAP, the FCC will be at full strength with three Republicans and two Democrats. And since the commissioners' are essential personnel, Starks could come aboard before the government shutdown ends.

Related: Manchin Lifts Hold on FCC's Carr

Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel has been pretty much a lone voice of pushback on the FCC's deregulatory agenda since the exit of Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn last June.

Starks had been assistant bureau chief in the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, which is not a typical launching pad for a commission seat, like, say, a Hill communications counsel would be, though the most recent Republican addition, Carr, came directly from the FCC as well.

Starks has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. He also founded a community bank.

The lift on the Carr hold freed up the full-Senate vote on Starks, which had been held up by Republicans, who generally want to pair up Republican and Democrat nominee votes but couldn't with the hold on Carr.

Carr is currently serving out the term of former chair Tom Wheeler. It actually expired in June 2018, but he could have continued to serve until the end of the new Congress—January 2020. He was narrowly approved (14 to 13) by the Senate Commerce Committee last January for that full, five-year, term, but never got a full Senate vote because of another hold, again not due to anything he had done but to Democrats' general disaffection with Republicans.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai welcomed both to the commission, leading off with the new Dem in his statement.

“I congratulate Geoffrey on his Senate confirmation," he said late Wednesday (Jan. 2). "He brings a wealth of experience and expertise, including having served most recently as assistant chief in the Enforcement Bureau. During his confirmation hearing, I was excited to hear him highlight the need to expand rural broadband and the power of telemedicine. I look forward to working with him and having a fellow Kansan on the Commission.

“I also congratulate Brendan on his confirmation to a full term. Brendan has done tremendous work on a number of issues, including his leadership on wireless infrastructure modernization." Pai put him in charge of rule changes to help ease wireless infrastructure buildouts. "He has also been a staunch advocate for rural broadband deployment, particularly for precision agriculture and advancements in telemedicine," said Pai.

“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,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees communications issues. “I congratulate Geoffrey Starks and Brendan Carr on this Senate action allowing them to turn their attention toward work benefiting the public.”

"We congratulate Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks on their confirmations and look forward to working with both of them on the challenges and opportunities facing today’s rapidly changing communications industry," said David Bartlett, CenturyLink VP of federal government affairs, "including ways the FCC can encourage investment in fiber networks."

“WifiForward congratulates Commissioner Starks on his confirmation to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, and appreciates the work he has done to promote American leadership in connectivity," said the group, which advocates for more Wi-Fi spectrum and infrastructure. "We also congratulate Commissioner Carr on his reconfirmation and continued commitment to expanding digital access in this country. To win the global race to 5G and give consumers faster than gigabit Wi-Fi speeds, the U.S. needs innovative spectrum policy that balances licensed and unlicensed spectrum. We look forward to working with Commissioners Starks and Carr, and their colleagues, to enable our connected future.”

"Geoffrey Starks’ record of public service and expertise in communications policy will be valuable assets to the Commission’s important work," said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "It will be great to partner with him in the months ahead to advance our shared goals of expanding broadband deployment, and stoking the engines of investment and innovation consumers deserve and our networks require.”“Commissioner Carr already has made a lasting mark on policies to bridge the digital divide and ensure our nation continues to lead in the deployment of next generation connectivity," Spalter said.

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 World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.