White House withdraws nomination of FCC commissioner O’Rielly
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Aug. 3 withdrew the nomination of Michael O’Rielly for a new five-year term as member of the Federal Communications Commission.
The White House on March 18 had nominated O’Rielly for reappointment to the FCC. His first term expired July 1, 2019.
The nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee and on July 22 moved to the full Senate for a vote. O’Rielly, a Republican, was first nominated for a seat on the FCC by President Barack Obama. In January 2015 he won a second term.
The withdrawal comes days after the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) placed a hold O’Rielly’s nomination.
Inhofe has been fighting the FCC over the commission’s April decision to grant the wireless communications firm Ligado a modification to its L-band spectrum license. The ruling allows the company to build a terrestrial 5G wireless network despite strong opposition from the Pentagon and other government agencies that claim the network will interfere with the Global Positioning System.
Inhofe said July 28 he would block O’Rielly’s until the nominee “publicly commits to vote to overturn the current Ligado order.”
The White House did not comment on why the nomination was withdrawn.
According to sources, the decision to pull back the nomination does not appear to be related to Ligado or Inhofe’s hold but was in response to O’Rielly not supporting the Trump administration’s petition that the FCC re-examine section 230 and other provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1934.
Section 230 provides social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook with legal protections. Trump has claimed that these platforms engage in political censorship against conservatives and has pushed to remove Section 230 immunity for such platforms.
O’Rielly has said he doubts that the FCC has authority to draft new rules to limit social media platforms’ legal protections under the First Amendment.
O’Rielly was the most vocal FCC commissioner on the topic of C-band, having pushed satellite operators to give up more of the spectrum for 5G cellular services.
He convinced the FCC in June to tweak its rules for the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund so that low Earth orbit broadband megaconstellations get a better chance at competing with fiber for subsidies. He joined the FCC’s other four commissioners in an April decision to reconsider proposed space debris regulations that industry described as untenable.
SpaceNews staff writer Caleb Henry contributed to this report