“Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Wheeler says in a statement. He lauded his colleagues for helping to promote “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.”
In addition, he says, the FCC helped to “protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”
Wheeler’s departure will give Republicans a 2-to-1 edge at the FCC — which normally has five commissioners — when Donald Trump becomes president. Senate Republicans did not confirm Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel for a new term before they left on recess. Her term will end on January 3.
The change could be important. FCC watchers expect Trump to oppose many of the initiatives that Wheeler championed including tough enforcement of net neutrality, open competition for cable set top boxes, and empowering consumers to limit the sale or sharing of data about their internet use that service providers collect.
Those and other positions made Wheeler — a former telco and cable lobbyist — an unexpected hero to consumer and open internet advocates.
Andrew Schwartzman, a long time consumer advocate, calls Wheeler “by far” the “best FCC Chairman in the 45 years I have practiced communications law. He has been willing to take risks and expend political capital to advance his agenda. And, unlike some predecessors, he hasn’t been afraid to confront Congress and powerful business interests when they stood in the way.”
Free Press CEO Craig Aaron praised Wheeler’s “willingness to stand up to industry pressure, listen to voices outside the Beltway and — perhaps most importantly — to change his mind.” He vowed to “fight any attempts to attack the best policies advanced during his tenure.”
Wheeler’s priorities often angered the largest companies that the FCC regulates including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.
Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says she expects broadcast and cable stocks to rise on the news “as another potential overhang has been removed.”
Commissioner Ajit Pai, who’s in line to replace Wheeler, says the Chairman “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.”