FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ended the “will he or won’t he, and when?” speculation on Thursday when he confirmed he will step down from his position on inauguration day in January.
According to a statement released by the FCC, Wheeler plans to leave the agency on January 20, 2017, after serving for more than three years at its helm.
Wheeler became the 31st Chairman of the FCC in November 2013 after being appointed by President Barack Obama. In his time leading the Commission, Wheeler became known as a champion of several controversial measures, including net neutrality, broadband privacy, and Title II classification of carriers.
“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Wheeler said. “I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair, and open networks for all Americans.”
Commenting on Wheeler’s departure, Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly acknowledged his past disagreements with the Chairman, but called him “passionate about his views and committed to solving communications problems.”
But with his departure, many of the hallmark rules Wheeler was most proud of will almost certainly face pushback – if not outright reversal.
With Wheeler out of the picture, and fellow Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s failure to secure a second term before the Senate adjourned last week, President-elect Donald Trump will be able to nominate three candidates to the Commission. One of those picks will give Republicans a three-member majority on the five-member Commission, giving the party the same advantage to repeal Wheeler’s measures that Wheeler had to pass them in the first place.
And it looks like they’re ready to get started.
Senior Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai – who is one of those likely to end up in the FCC driver’s seat – in a December 7 speech said Title II’s “days are numbered” and hinted at further changes, saying “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”
“I’m also optimistic that the FCC will once again respect the limits that Congress has placed on our authority,” Paid said in a shot at Wheeler’s tactics. “We can’t simply enact whatever we think is good public policy. We also have to make sure that we have the power to do so. But the Commission hasn’t done a very good job of that recently.”
However, as pointed out previously by Anna-Maria Kovacs, visiting senior policy scholar at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, there will be some heavy lifting to reverse Wheeler’s course, especially when it comes to Title II. Since the rationale for that measure in particular was upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, another legal challenge would have to go through the Supreme Court. If the FCC simply doesn’t want to implement the provisions of the order, however, that’s a different story.
We’ll have to wait and see.
Filed Under: Cybersecurity, Industry regulations