US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai (pictured) could be facing an uphill reconfirmation battle in the US Senate this year as net neutrality advocates and Democrats push for his exit.

According to a report from Politico, Democratic senators are planning to put up a “very loud” fight during Pai’s upcoming reconfirmation hearing, which could come as soon as this week. While the Republican majority in the Senate means Pai will likely have enough votes to continue, it doesn’t mean Democrats will let the matter slide.

“This debate on net neutrality, on privacy, is at a defining historical moment, and we have to ensure there is a full public debate so everyone can understand its importance,” senator Ed Markey said.

Pai was appointed to the FCC by former US President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in May 2012. His first term formally ended in June 2016, but Pai is permitted to stay on until the close of 2017 because the FCC’s rules allow commissioners to continue serving until their replacements are appointed, though not beyond the end of the next session of Congress following their term expiration.

President Donald Trump earlier this year nominated Pai for reconfirmation to a new five-year term, and appointed Pai to serve as the commission’s new chairman.

Net neutrality
Pai spearheaded a number of controversial proceedings since being appointed chairman, including the rollback of internet data privacy rules and Title II classification of internet service providers. The latter garnered the most public attention, as Title II serves as the underpinning for the FCC’s enforcement of net neutrality regulations.

Markey was one of nine Democratic Senators to sign a letter sent to Pai last week asking for access to more than 47,000 complaints in the net neutrality proceeding. Those documents, according to the letter, allegedly: “cut to the core of several questions posed by the commission, including whether there exists ‘evidence of actual harm to consumers sufficient to support maintaining the Title II telecommunications service classification’.”

The senators claimed the FCC acknowledged the documents existed, but did not post them until a few days before the comment deadline for the proceeding.

Net neutrality advocacy group Free Press is also pushing for Pai’s removal, circulating a petition asking senators to vote against Pai’s reconfirmation.

“Since he joined the commission, he’s worked to undo policies designed to protect internet users, communities of colour and poor people. While he’s supposed to protect the public interest, he’s continuously voted against it and sided with the deep-pocketed corporations – like Verizon – that once employed him,” the petition reads.

“He’s failing at his job. And that means we need the Senate to fire him.”