Thomas Wheeler, whose tenure as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has drawn sharp criticism from the Republican Party that will control the White House and both houses of Congress next year, has announced he will resign January 20, 2017.
"Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life," said Wheeler via a statement posted on the FCC website. "I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people.
"It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cyber-security, and ensure fast, fair, and open networks for all Americans," Wheeler's statement concluded.
Wheeler's aggressive pursuit of those goals, which has included adoption of Open Internet/Net Neutrality rules, an attempt to declare invalid state laws that restrict the ability of municipalities to build broadband networks, and opening the market for set-top boxes, has induced the ire of service providers, politicians, and the Republican members of the FCC. Many such policies were adopted by a 3-2 vote among the FCC commissioners, a group appointed by the President and ratified by Congress generally in a configuration that gives the President's party a one-seat advantage.
With the victory of President-elect Donald Trump in November's elections, the roster of commissioners was expected to change significantly next year. Wheeler's resignation and the foundering in Congress of Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's nomination for a new term mean there could be only three commissioners in place by the end of January: Republicans Michael O'Rielly and Ajit Pai and Democrat Mignon Clyburn. Pai's name has been floated in the media as a potential replacement for Wheeler.
However the FCC is configured once the occupant of the White House changes, many of Wheeler's policy initiatives are expected to be either scaled back or reversed completely. The Open Internet/Net Neutrality initiative appears to be high on hit list, press outlets speculate.
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