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FCC Chairman And Free Internet Champion Tom Wheeler To Step Down

America is losing one of its greatest champions of the free internet. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he plans to step down on January 20--the exact same day that Donald Trump is expected to be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Wheeler's resignation comes as no surprise. Republicans pressured the FCC into delaying votes on new rules because "it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing." The agency heeded that warning by putting off votes on measures to expand audio descriptions, kill the cable box, and expand mobile networks, among others.

Not long after, Republican members of the FCC's leadership said they want Trump's administration to reverse many of the rules introduced under President Obama. The message was clear: Now that Republicans have taken control of Congress, the Presidency, and potentially the Supreme Court, they want to undo many of the pro-consumer regulations that Wheeler and the rest of the Obama administration introduced over the last eight years.

Key among those regulations is the FCC's Open Internet rules defending net neutrality, which went into effect in June 2015. They were put in place to stop internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking access to legal content, throttling data speeds from certain services, or charging other companies for access to a "fast lane" that would deliver their bits and bytes to consumers faster. All of these concepts are at the core of a free and open internet.

Now that free internet is in danger, here's what former FCC commissioner and Common Cause special adviser Michael Copps said in a statement:

Tom Wheeler built a truly historic record of achievement as Chairman of the FCC. At the pinnacle of his achievement is net neutrality. All those who understand the critical importance of this will best honor Tom now by joining together to preserve what his FCC did from the onslaughts of those who would reverse the rules, reverse the power of an open internet, and reverse history itself.

Trump is widely expected to replace Wheeler with a man named Jeffrey Eisenach. He's a former commissioner-turned-analyst who has spoken out against net neutrality multiple times over the years. This fits with Trump's positions, and together they could put an end to net neutrality in the United States. Everything the FCC--and Wheeler specifically--tried to protect over almost a decade could be undone when Trump enters the White House.

Here's Copps again:

On so many other fronts, Tom has led the FCC with vision, dedication to the public interest, and a fierce determination to get things done. Lifeline, E-Rate, consumer privacy, broadband deployment, spectrum policy have each been advanced thanks to his leadership and the majorities he put together in behalf of those issues. [...] We will need Tom's voice and leadership after January 20 as much as before, not just to preserve one individual's achievements but to build a telecom and media environment of, by, and for the American people.

There's a chance that Wheeler set his resignation for January 20 with the hope that the Electoral College will prevent Trump from becoming president. This would make it easier for Wheeler to resist a Republican Congress, at least, and he wouldn't be marked for removal by the end of January. That probably won't happen. Instead, shortly after the New Year has been rung in, the free and open internet may once again be put in jeopardy.

  • jeremy2020
    TL; DR Get ready for more expensive internet access from entrenched monopolies and duopolies who have bought congressmen, senators, the FCC and now a President
    Reply
  • takeshi7
    Tom Wheeler never supported Net neutrality. He only pretended to support it because there was so much backlash. Remember in the beginning he was against it. By stepping down, he finally gets to end net neutrality like he always wanted, and he can't be blamed for it because he's no longer at the FCC. Win-win for him.
    Reply
  • falchard
    Personally I find this to be a positive. Many of the measures introduced result in 1 bottom-line: More expensive and lower quality service.
    It will allow isps to have the freedom in maximizing their services. In some cases it can be negative, but in many cases it can be positive. Things like T-Mobile's Binge On give customers practically unlimited 4G lte service for $50 a month. It would completely violate net neutrality despite it's positive attributes.
    As for duopolies, the net neutrality rules don't address this. Take it up with your local government preventing more competitors. This isn't something the fcc can fix.
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    Ummm... THIS smells very politically motivated. (I hope TH stays politically neutral and goes for the facts only in this.)

    Looks like he is being a big baby. If there was any reason to stay, THIS would be it: to fight to keep the things he, and especially the politically motivated NY Times, claims will be in jeopardy that are good (like Net Neutrality). Instead, he wishes to run away from what might be the best position to fight it from. (Okay, he may be targeted for replacement anyway, but still... it makes his legacy going down acting like a child instead of fighting.)

    (BTW: I don't trust the NY Times. Its been shown to play political favorites and bias to the point of disregarding facts.)
    Reply
  • ravewulf
    Dark times ahead. Hope we make it through the next four years
    Reply
  • toadhammer
    This is normal stuff, and there's no way for Wheeler to "stay and fight." All appointees are required to resign at the end of the president's term. The incoming president can keep them on if he wishes.
    Reply
  • why_wolf
    They aren't required to resign, until their term is up, but it is traditional for them to all tender their resignation unless the incoming president asks them to stay.
    Reply
  • LilDog1291
    @Falchard Thats just how it starts. They allow some services through with no data limit and then eventually it becomes a necessity to compete. Lets say they do just what you say and then Netflix, YouTube, or whomever jack up prices or wrong consumers in some way. How do you then as an entrepreneur start a competing company when your potential customers have to use their abysmal data limit to try to view your service over the one that is completely data free?

    ISPs and mobile providers need to get over themselves and get America up to the same standard of network connectivity that any other major power enjoys. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/03/27/16998/what-separates-us-and-european-internet-less-competition-more-costs

    The practice of regional monopolies and the logic that data should be treated like a finite resource needs to go.
    Reply
  • wildkitten
    19008136 said:
    Ummm... THIS smells very politically motivated. (I hope TH stays politically neutral and goes for the facts only in this.)

    Looks like he is being a big baby. If there was any reason to stay, THIS would be it: to fight to keep the things he, and especially the politically motivated NY Times, claims will be in jeopardy that are good (like Net Neutrality). Instead, he wishes to run away from what might be the best position to fight it from. (Okay, he may be targeted for replacement anyway, but still... it makes his legacy going down acting like a child instead of fighting.)

    (BTW: I don't trust the NY Times. Its been shown to play political favorites and bias to the point of disregarding facts.)

    The president gets to appoint who he wants to head the FCC. The party in power gets 3 of the 5 seats while the party out of power gets 2. This is nothing new. There is no option for him to stay unless Trump nominated him again.

    Reply
  • wildkitten
    19008780 said:
    @Falchard Thats just how it starts. They allow some services through with no data limit and then eventually it becomes a necessity to compete. Lets say they do just what you say and then Netflix, YouTube, or whomever jack up prices or wrong consumers in some way. How do you then as an entrepreneur start a competing company when your potential customers have to use their abysmal data limit to try to view your service over the one that is completely data free?

    ISPs and mobile providers need to get over themselves and get America up to the same standard of network connectivity that any other major power enjoys. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/03/27/16998/what-separates-us-and-european-internet-less-competition-more-costs

    The practice of regional monopolies and the logic that data should be treated like a finite resource needs to go.

    Netflix, Youtube and other services are not the "internet", they can price their services how they want, when they want. These services only DELIVER their content over the internet.

    And here is the thing that opponents of Binge On and other like services totally ignore. Even if you start up a new service and aren't part of the free streaming option, you still benefit from it because people have more data freed up to try your service. Let's say net neutrality advocates succeeded in getting T-Mobile's Binge On ended. That isn't going to help any new service in the least. In fact it's likely to harm it because even if Netflix or Youtube raised their rates, people will stay with them because they have what no new start up can do and that is provide the top content (unless the new start up is started by an existing high end studio or network in which case people will complain about it).

    Reply