The Federal Communications Commission is about to get a big shakeup in terms of personnel and quite likely in policy.
On Thursday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who pushed through controversial rules protecting net neutrality and guarding consumer privacy, announced he will step down from the commission on Jan. 20, the same day that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as president. Wheeler, a Democrat nominated by President Obama, will almost certainly be replaced by a Republican nominated by Trump, whose election has put much of Wheeler’s legacy in doubt.
“Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to the president for giving me this opportunity.”
In addition to Wheeler, Jessica Rosenworcel, another Democrat on the commission, is slated to leave it at the end of the year. Rosenworcel had been nominated for another term by Obama, but the Republican Senate declined to confirm her by the end of its term this year.
Together, the departures of Wheeler and and Rosenworcel will leave Republicans with a 2-1 majority on the commission even before Trump nominates a new chairman. That could give them a head start on dismantling Wheeler’s reforms.
The Republican FCC members — Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly — vehemently opposed many of the reforms the commission enacted or proposed under Wheeler. They and the men Trump has named to oversee FCC issues during the presidential transition have made it clear that repealing the net neutrality rules will be one of their top priorities.
A former telecommunications industry lobbyist, Wheeler drew skepticism by many consumer activists when he first joined the commission. Their suspicions seemed confirmed when, in the wake of a court ruling striking down an earlier effort to guarantee net neutrality, Wheeler proposed rules that would have allowed broadband providers to create so-called fast lanes on the internet, charging extra to get their content delivered more speedily to consumers.
But in the face of a massive letter writing campaign from consumers, Wheeler reversed course and proposed the strong new rules that were eventually adopted.
“When Tom Wheeler was named to head the FCC, we voiced serious reservations about how a former industry lobbyist could do the job. But he proved us wrong,” Craig Aaron, CEO of consumer advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement. “We haven’t agreed with him on every decision, but time and again Wheeler showed a willingness to stand up to industry pressure, listen to voices outside the Beltway and — perhaps most importantly — to change his mind.”
Photo: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler in March 2015. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Published at Thu, 15 Dec 2016 21:11:58 +0000