FCC, Net Neutrality Face Changes Under New Administration

The Federal Communications Commission is undergoing changes prior to the transition to a new administration. When the Senate adjourned without voting on a new term for commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, it sealed her departure at the end of December. And when President-elect Donald Trump takes office, Tom Wheeler will step down as chairman of the FCC, although his term as commissioner runs through 2018. Trump has not yet mentioned names with regard to the next FCC chairman, but it will likely be someone opposed to net neutrality.

The Hollywood Reporter notes, during her term, Rosenworcel “showcased a fiercely independent streak that … earned admiration across the political spectrum for her stances.” The two remaining Republican FCC commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, “have been hostile towards aggressive regulatory proposals and rulemaking concerning media ownership, privacy obligations for broadband providers, and competition on the cable set-top box front.”

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According to Recode, under the new administration, net neutrality, “which prevents Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon from charging websites like Netflix and Facebook a fee to reach Internet users at faster speeds,” is doomed.

“In January, the stage is set for a 2-1 Republican majority at the FCC next year,” it notes, and Trump, “an opponent of network neutrality, is geared to pick new leadership to reverse the rules.” Trump’s two advisors Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison, opponents of net neutrality, “are expected to guide the agency in a direction that will be more favorable to Internet providers than to Silicon Valley companies.”

THR adds, however, that, “unwinding regulations like the FCC’s open Internet rules … isn’t a particularly simple task,” even if Pai has vowed to be a regulatory “weed whacker.” Recode agrees, noting that, “the current rules won’t evaporate overnight” and new rulemaking to undo the previous order “may take well over a year, if not longer.” But “zero-rating,” an extension of net neutrality that prevents broadband or wireless distributors from excluding the consumption of its own content from consumers’ data caps, “will likely go nowhere under a more skeptical administration.”

THR dubs AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner as a “wild card,” since Trump has promised to reject it. It’s not clear if the FCC will review the proposed acquisition but, it says, “if Trump conceives of an agency that fights in his words ‘too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,’ he may choose to appoint a fifth commissioner outside of the traditional Republican mold.”