Wheeler to step down as FCC chairman

Wheeler to step down as FCC chairman
© Greg Nash
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will step down early next year, he announced Thursday before the FCC’s open meeting.
 
His planned Jan. 20 departure comes on the heels of Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel not receiving confirmation to remain an FCC commissioner. The two departures will leave Republicans with a 2-1 majority on the FCC.
 
Wheeler's tenure was marked by controversy in what was once a relatively sleepy agency. The FCC has become ground zero for large tech debates on high-profile items like regulation regarding cable set-top boxes and net neutrality — rules that President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJuan Williams: Trump gives life to the left Kennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive Pompeo to outline post-deal strategy on Iran MORE’s incoming administration is expected to reverse.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Wheeler’s positions have earned him ire and praise. During a congressional oversight hearing, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePost-Zuckerberg, tech CEOs under pressure to testify Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers Twitter CEO meets with lawmakers to talk net neutrality, privacy MORE (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bob Nelson (D-Fla.) accused Wheeler of contributing to partisanship at the FCC.
 
Others lauded him for similar reasons, though.
 
"He has been willing to take risks and expend political capital to advance his agenda," said Andrew Schwartzman, a professor of communications law at Georgetown University. "And, unlike some predecessors, he hasn’t been afraid to confront Congress and powerful business interests when they stood in the way."
 
Rosenworcel’s failed confirmation left FCC split ideologically, with Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Tom Wheeler and Republicans Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly. 
 
Wheeler’s departure will leave the the FCC with a 2-1 Republican majority until the GOP-controlled Senate can further confirm commissioners.
 
Some within the technology and telecommunications industries had speculated that Wheeler would remain as an FCC commissioner until his term expires in 2018. He said earlier in the month that he would step down if it meant that Rosenworcel could be reconfirmed to stay at the FCC.
 
“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.”