White House Withdraws Nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly

Because O’Rielly Doubted Donald Trump’s Executive Order On Social Media

​By Ted Johnson, Aug 3, 2020 | Original deadline.com article here.

The White House withdrew the nomination of Michael O’Rielly to serve another term as commissioner at the FCC, just days after he gave a speech in which he signaled his opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order to try to limit liability protections for social media companies.


O’Rielly, a Republican who joined the commission in 2013, was facing Senate confirmation for another term that would have extended through 2024. The White House did not give a reason for the withdrawal of the nomination, and it was unclear if it was related to O’Rielly’s comments on Trump’s social media order. The president and others on the right have long complained that tech platforms’ content moderation practices are biased against conservatives.

Last week, O’Rielly addressed in a speech he gave to the Media Institute in which he criticized the effort to target the social media platforms. O’Rielly said

“The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government — not private actors — and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way,”

“Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. 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.’”

O’Rielly said that his remarks weren’t directed at Trump or White House officials, who he said were within their rights to seek FCC action, but to “certain opportunists elsewhere who claim to be the First Amendment’s biggest heroes but only come to its defense when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives.”

Complaining that the tech platforms were stifling free speech, Trump issued his executive order in May, shortly after Twitter, for the first time, placed a fact-check on two of his tweets.

The order directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to draw up a proposal to the FCC, an independent agency, to limit the liability protections that tech platforms currently enjoy for third-party content on their sites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. First Amendment advocates have raised doubts that such a move would survive constitutional scrutiny, but the FCC on Monday put the proposal up for public comment. It now will go through a 45-day period for comments.

​With O’Rielly’s potential opposition to the proposal, the Trump administration faces not having enough support on the commission for it the pass. The two Democrats on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, have signaled that they oppose it as well.

A spokesperson for O’Rielly did not immediately return a request for comment.

The news of the withdrawal of O’Rielly’s nomination drew a strong reaction from public policy circles in D.C. Preston Padden, a communications policy consultant and former top lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co., wrote on Twitter, “I have been around D.C. communications policy circles for 47 years. President Trump withdrawing the renomination of Mike O’Rielly for the FCC is the worst thing I have ever seen.”

The Senate Commerce Committee approved O’Rielly’s renomination, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) placed a hold on O’Rielly’s nomination. The issue was over the FCC’s order to allow Ligado Networks to create a low-power 5G network on spectrum that has been used for radar and GPS.

Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement, said that O’Rielly “is the consummate professional—smart, diligent, honest, and fair. For these and many other reasons, NAB has been proud to support his continued service at the Commission. But for these reasons also, I have every confidence that he will succeed wherever he casts his lot.”

. . . and then read this Slate article from 2015 . . .

FCC Commissioner Says Internet Access Is “Not a Necessity”

By Lily Hay Newman June 29, 2015

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael ORielly.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at an FCC hearing on Feb. 26, 2015 in Washington, D.C.Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The FCC’s regulations preserving net neutrality took effect a couple of weeks ago, and the commission voted last week to extend phone subsidies for low-income Americans to broadband as well. But at least one member of the five-person group doesn’t view Internet as something Americans need fair and equal access to every day.

In a speech Thursday to the Internet Innovation Alliance (a coalition that promotes broadband accessibility), Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly made his views plain:

It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right. … People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives.

Not surprisingly, O’Rielly voted against the FCC’s net neutrality protections and the proposal to expand telephone subsidies to broadband. But he wants you to know that he’s not a technophobe. “I am neither afraid nor ashamed to admit that technology has been one of the greatest loves of my life, besides my wife,” he said in the speech.

Still he maintained that, “It is even more ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right. In fact, it is quite demeaning to do so in my opinion.” In 2014, Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee famously declared Web access a basic human right. But O’Rielly believes that true human rights are more elemental, like food, shelter, and water.

Though it is not a surprising stance based on his voting record within the FCC and previous work as a Republican legislative aide, O’Rielly’s position seems somewhat incongruous with his job as an FCC commissioner, as Motherboard points out. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 says that part of the FCC’s mandate is to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.”

A Pew Study about Americans’ Internet access from 2000 to 2015, published Friday, shows that overall adoption among adults is at 84 percent for the third year in a row. The number is partly skewed by adults 65 and older, only 58 percent of whom regularly use the Internet. But the study shows that education is also a determinant of Internet engagement. Only 66 percent of adults who did not graduate from high school use the Internet, compared with 95 percent who graduated from college. Income and race are also factors.

The study seems to indicate that

  • virtually everyone with the means and other societal privileges to access the Internet does so.
  • the opportunities and tools to facilitate economic mobility have been almost exclusively online.

For example, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, local papers across the country reported that unemployed people who didn’t have Internet access were at an enormous disadvantage in the job market. And over the last seven years, the Digital Divide has only increased.

O’Rielly knows that “we live in a technology-centric society,” and he says that “trying to curtail the Internet is a fool’s errand.” And yet …(see quote above)