Departure of FCC’s Tom Wheeler Could Impact Net Neutrality

The FCC announced that Tom Wheeler will resign his chair position on January 20. The Obama appointee led the agency for the last three years. It is customary for the chairperson to resign when there is a new administration. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for another term was also impacted last week by the Senate’s decision not to vote prior to adjourning for the year. Rosenworcel is expected to step down by the end of December. President-elect Donald Trump will have two FCC seats to fill, one from each major party. Meanwhile, the departures leave the agency with two Republican commissioners and one Democratic commissioner.

Wheeler was largely responsible for a number of new regulations meant to foster competition in the telecom industry, including the net neutrality mandate that called for cable companies and telcos to treat Internet service and phone service similarly, with the same rules.

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“Wheeler backed net neutrality, new broadband privacy rules, and subsidies for low-income families to buy broadband, among other initiatives,” reports Wired. “He also pushed back against Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable.”

With Trump in office, it is expected that conservatives will attempt to trim some of the recent regulations initiated by the FCC.

“A broader rollback of Wheeler’s policies appears likely, analysts say, particularly on net neutrality,” according to The Washington Post. “The rules have long been targeted by Republicans as an example of government overreach. If net neutrality falls, some of Wheeler’s other initiatives — such as rules compelling Internet providers not to abuse customer data — could also collapse because of their reliance on net neutrality for legal force.”

While Wheeler led the charge to reclassify ISPs as part of the Open Internet Order, the telco industry fought against it, and Congressional Republicans have attempted to reverse the decision.

“Now, with a Republican majority and president imminent, the party will have a number of options for undoing Wheeler’s work,” notes Wired. “Republican FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who both voted against the Open Internet Order, have both already promised to roll back regulations.”

Related:
AT&T, Verizon Fire Back at FCC Charge That Zero-Rated Video Services Violate Net Neutrality, Variety, 12/15/16