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FCC chmn Tom Wheeler

Thurs’ FCC Open Meeting was the last one for 2 Democrats: chmn Tom Wheeler and commish Jessica Rosenworcel. Wheeler announced before the meeting that he is leaving on Jan 20, after 3+ years at the helm of the agency. Rosenworcel’s departure is due to Senate’s failure to reconfirm her. The chmn said during a press conference following the meeting that he met with the Trump FCC transition team twice, a one-one-one meeting with transition team head Jeff Eisenach and another with all 3 team members, which include Mark Jamison and Roslyn Layton. There was only one item on Thurs’ meeting agenda: TTY services. Yet the supposedly short meeting lasted for almost 2 hours. “Sitting in this chair has been the greatest privilege of my professional career… I am proud of what this Commission has accomplished. I’m grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to serve and for the confidence he placed in me,” Wheeler said during the meeting. There have been some tensions between him and the agency’s 2 GOPers, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, with the pair often complaining about being kept in the dark on the chmn’s decision making process. Commenting on his relationship with his fellow commissioners, Wheeler said “when you put five type-A personalities together, lots of interesting things happen, including not always seeing eye to eye… The headlines got built around our differences, but the facts are that we accomplished a lot.”

Former Republican commish Robert McDowellsaid in an interview that “Tom has been energetic and is an activist who fought hard for what he believes in.” The Wheeler Commission expanded the FCC’s jurisdiction in many areas and a Republican-dominated FCC will be looking to “draw some boundaries around the commission,” said McDowell, currently a partner at law firm Cooley, which advises media and telecom companies. And the new FCC, with some Congressional assistance, could look to overturn Title II net neutrality rules. That said, most of the issues in front of the FCC aren’t partisan, McDowell noted. As a result, one of the first things the new FCC chmn might do is to vote on items with possible consensus. Despite their differences, Pai and O’Rielly praised Wheeler for his service. “Like his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, chairman Wheeler brought passion and tenacity to the playing field each and every day. 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,” Pai, the potential interim chmn, said in a statement. O’Rielly said “while we may not have always agreed on the substance or procedures of Commission work, Tom is passionate about his views and committee to solving communications problems…” Wheeler’s term doesn’t expire until 2018, so technically, he could stay on as a commissioner. Asked if that’s an option, Wheeler said “this is in keeping with the commitments that I have repeatedly made since March that I would cooperate with the wishes of the new administration to assure a smooth transition and that I would follow the precedent that when the White House changes parties, the chairman resigns regardless of the amount of time left in the term…. The American people decided they wanted something else… And I stuck with my commitment.” It’s widely expected that the new FCC chmn would find ways to overturn the enhanced net neutrality rules. Republican lawmakers would also seek to override the Title II reclassification through legislation.

Wheeler said he hoped any legislative proposal would not take away the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality rules. He also hoped the Trump Administration wouldn’t eliminate the FCC’s ability to enforce telecom laws. “Those who chant that government is the problem are wrong, and their chant is dangerous. Government isn’t some faceless ‘them.’ It is us. It is we the people who govern ourselves. Government is where we come together to collectively address common challenges,” he said. FCC transition team member Jamison suggested in an Oct blog post that there’s little need for an agency like the FCC. “Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away… Telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies,” he wrote. The next open meeting is slated for Jan 26, 2017.

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