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Wheeler Will Step Down Jan. 20

Will make way for Republican appointee

President Obama’s FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made it official, he will step down from the commission entirely when President Trump takes office.

The news ends recent speculation about a possible muddied or prolonged transition in the makeup of the board between a Democratic-led commission into a GOP administration, though the eventual composition of the five-seat panel will probably not be clear for some time.

“Today, Chairman Tom Wheeler, after more three years at the helm of the agency, announced he intends to leave the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20, 2017,” the commission announced.

There had been some speculation that Wheeler would not leave the commission immediately because his term runs to 2018. Meanwhile fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel has not been reconfirmed, and according to some accounts, Republicans indicated they would not reconfirm her if Wheeler insisted on staying on and making it harder for the new administration to put its stamp on the commission right away. (Ars Technica has a good summary of the context.) So until Rosenworcel or another Democrat is named, and until a replacement for Wheeler, presumably Republican, is confirmed, the GOP will have a 2-1 majority come Jan. 21 under an acting chair.

Wheeler issued a statement:

“Serving as FCC 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.”

He was the 31st chair of the FCC, taking the position in November 2013, appointed by President Obama. His departure makes it likely that one of the Republicans currently on the commission will succeed him at least in an acting capacity; they are Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly. Pai has been critical of what he described as unprecedented partisan rancor at the commission. Today he issued a statement: “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.”

Democrat Mignon Clyburn is the other remaining commissioner. She was acting chair prior to Wheeler’s appointment.

Wheeler came to the FCC with a background in telecom networks and services; according to his official bio, he is the only person to be selected to both the Cable Television Hall of Fame and The Wireless Hall of Fame. The bio noted that President Obama nicknamed him “The Bo Jackson of Telecom.” Prior, Wheeler was managing director at Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm investing in Internet Protocol (IP)-based companies; he was as president/CEO of Shiloh Group LLC, a strategy development and private investment company. He is former president/CEO of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).