Waiting to Exhale: Wheeler Announces January 20 Exit Date

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wheeler-shotFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters after Thursday’s open Commission meeting he actually enjoyed engaging with the press in his more than three years as the appointed head of the agency. However, he declined comment on questions about his legacy and whether a Trump-led Commission might be able to roll back or reverse rulemakings it considers controversial like Net Neutrality, saying that’s an issue for the next FCC to determine.

“Sitting in this chair has been the greatest privilege of my professional career. It’s been a team effort. When you put five type-A personalities together, lots of interesting things happen. The headlines got built around our differences, but the facts are we accomplished a lot,” he said during the meeting.

He told reporters afterwards: “Agency bureaucrats are frequently disparaged. The FCC punches above their weight because of their dedicated application and their considerable capabilities.” 

Doing what’s right for everyone is hard, Wheeler said, while making decisions that benefit one side is easy.

The former telecom lobbyist was asked repeatedly why he chose yesterday to announce he intends to leave the commission on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017; some lawmakers believe if he had been more clear about his intentions to step down, GOP members of the Senate such as Commerce Committee Chair John Thune of South Dakota would have been more willing to re-confirm Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel for another term.

Because Wheeler was not publicly plain about his intentions, GOP lawmakers were angered and held-up Rosenworcel’s confirmation. The Senate didn’t approve her for a new term before it left town for recess last week, and she will have to leave the Commission by January 3, when the current session of Congress adjourns.

Wheeler said yesterday he has been clear, saying repeatedly he had publicly committed to “assist in the transition, do what the transition team found helpful and I would adhere to tradition.” Ranking Member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) “was clear” some of the GOP Senators “didn’t want to confirm Rosenworcel because that would create a 2-1 Commission,” Wheeler said, meaning a Democratic majority. “I was asked if I would step down the moment she was confirmed and I said ‘of course,’” he said.   

He did mention he anticipated a different outcome in the election.

Now, the FCC will have two Republicans, (Ajit Pai, who is likely to be appointed interim Chairman, and Michael O’Reilly) and one Democrat (Mignon Clyburn). Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker believes this bodes well for the industry because the Commission make-up is not uncertain anymore and the new Republican majority “would allow for expedited deregulation,” rather than needing to wait until further out in 2017.  

December 16, 2016

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