FCC Chair Stepping Down, Threatening Net Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to step down at the end of President Obama’s term, paving the way for a possible end to net neutrality.

Wheeler, a Democrat, has served as chairman since late 2013 and advocated net neutrality, as well as regulations to increase competition. President-elect Donald Trump will designate a new FCC chairman and will pick a Republican for the post.

“Serving as FCC chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Wheeler said in a statement. “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.”

David Heard, interim CEO of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said Wheeler set an “ambitious agenda at the FCC and proved to be a thoughtful chairman.”

“Along with our member companies, TIA has appreciated his leadership on spectrum policy and his efforts to advance next-generation mobile networks,” he said. “His work on spectrum frontiers has been particularly important, and will provide a large amount of the critical, high-band spectrum needed to deliver 5G networks and ensure America can continue to lead the world in innovation.”{ad}

Gary Griffiths, CEO of iPass, said whether the FCC’s net neutrality policy, implemented under the Obama presidency, is actually repealed, “we can expect the Trump administration to reduce oversight by federal agencies like the FCC, allowing a power shift away from Google, Facebook and other internet giants to telecom and media giants like Comcast and other cable ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, etc.”

Bob Quinn, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said “it would be disingenuous to suggest that we did not have significant differences with the direction the FCC took under Chairman Wheeler.”

“However … Wheeler has been a respected leader in the video and wireless industries for over 30 years with many accomplishments,” he said. “Following that illustrious career, and when most people would have hung up their spikes, he chose to enter public service where he was a dedicated and tireless advocate.”

George Foot, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, who works closely with the FCC, said Wheeler brought “deep communications industry knowledge to the job, and he did his homework when he got there.” Foot represents utilities on policy development.

“He sometimes changed his opinion, but never changed his commitment to open but secure and efficient communications systems for the country,” he said.

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