In a formal statement issued by the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler announced he will be stepping down from his position on January 20, 2017. His resignation is not without controversy, however. It is customary for the FCC chairman to step down during a transition to a new administration. Chairman Wheeler had previously expressed his intention not to step down earlier in 2016. His early decision prompted tremendous backlash from Senate Republicans who were concerned for a 3 to 2 Democratic majority on the FCC Commission had he not stepped down. Under pressure from his own party, Mr. Wheeler changed his decision.
Chairman Wheeler’s initial decision to stay on as Chairman under the new administration is blamed for the failed re-confirmation of democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. The Senate also denied her confirmation during a pro forma session, so she was forced to step down as a commissioner when the last Congress ended on January 3, 2017. President Barrack Obama has since renominated her, and she awaits another confirmation hearing. Should she fail to be confirmed, the FCC commission will stand with a heavy Republican majority.
Following Chairman Wheeler’s announcement, his colleagues issued statements expressing their respect and well wishes for him.
“I truly thank Chairman Wheeler for his public service to our country,” said fellow commissioner Michael O’Reilly. “While we may not have always agreed on the substance or procedures of Commission work, Tom is passionate about his views and committed to solving communications problems, including our work together on Rate of Return reform.”
“Chairman Wheeler brought passion and tenacity to the playing field each and every day, said fellow commissioner Ajit Pai. “Despite our differences in many areas of communications policy, I commend him for his years of public service. It has been a privilege to serve alongside him, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
While typically at odds with his conservative colleagues, Tom Wheeler presided over some of the most historic actions ever taken by the FCC, including Net-Neutrality and changes to the rules governing direct numbering access, among many others.
In his stead, either Mr. O’Reilley or Mr. Pai will take his place to head the FCC. Under the new administration, there are sure to be many changes for communications, a fact that is certainly underscored by the fast pace of new and emerging technologies.
Chairman Wheeler’s statement read as follows: “Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. 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 cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”