FCC chief recuses self from AT&T review

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has recused himself as the agency considers AT&T’s plans to switch subscribers from traditional phone technology to Internet-based phone lines.

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At the agency’s June open meeting on Friday, Wheeler announced that he would not participate in the agency’s work on this topic, citing his tenure on the Board of Directors for telecom company EarthLink, which recently filed to participate. 

Wheeler served on EarthLink’s Board of Directors for ten years before resigning last year after the Senate confirmed him to be FCC chairman.

Announcing his recusal Friday, Wheeler pledged to participate in other, broader conversations at the agency about the switch from traditional phone technology to Internet-based lines.

Telecom companies, led by AT&T, are pushing the agency to allow this technology switch, arguing that subscribers are voluntarily choosing the Internet-based services, making it inefficient to maintain the costly and more heavily-regulated traditional phone lines.

But public interest groups are asking the FCC to proceed cautiously, as Internet-based phone lines are thought to be less reliable and have fewer capabilities than traditional phone technologies.

When the FCC voted to allow companies to propose trials for this technology switch, Wheeler and other commissioners pledged to ensure that the switch doesn’t deprive consumers of the reliability they have come to expect.