Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Thursday that he will step down on January 20 — inauguration day for incoming US President Donald Trump. Wheeler was appointed to the top position at the FCC more three years ago by President Barack Obama.
The FCC issued the following statement from Wheeler regarding his resignation:
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.
Wheeler’s departure does not come as a surprise, although there had been some speculation that he would stay on and finish out his term, which technically doesn’t expire until 2018. But it’s customary for FCC leaders to step down when new presidents are sworn in to allow the next administration to make an appointment.
It was under Wheeler that net neutrality was passed and internet providers we reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Net neutrality would become Wheeler’s signature initiative during his time as head of the commission, and his most successful.
More recently Wheeler pushed for an overhaul of the cable box market in a move that would require providers of cable and satellite TV services to offer free apps that would let subscribers stream programming without the need of a set-top box. But in September, the FCC delayed the proposal and left future consideration unclear.
Once the Trump administration takes over, and one of the two Republican commissioners become interim chairman, Wheeler’s accomplishments could come under fire. The president-elect is expected to roll back net neutrality and pave the way for corporate-owned internet.