Tom Wheeler will step down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on 20 January 2017, paving the way for a Republican led leadership and a possible revamp of net neutrality rules.
In many ways the announcement hardly comes as a surprise and Wheeler’s departure will occur on the same day US President elect Donald Trump is inaugurated.
Wheeler (pictured) was elected by President Obama to lead the FCC in 2013, and follows a long line of FCC leaders who have left the agency once a new president is sworn in.
The writing was also somewhat on the wall for Wheeler after ReCode pointed out the US Senate did not reconfirm Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose term is reportedly up at the end of the year.
Rosenworcel, like Wheeler, was a big advocate of net neutrality, a policy that Trump previously opposed.
With Wheeler gone and Rosenworcel seemingly on the way out, the Republicans hold a majority, and this could mean a drastic rework of the net neutrality policies that came into play in 2015.
Shortly after being elected, Trump’s transition team also picked Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison to focus on policy matters at the FCC. Both are known to be opponents of net neutrality, and have track records of being pro-merger in the telecoms industry.
In a statement announcing his departure, Wheeler said serving as chairman “during this period of historic technological change” had been the greatest honour of his 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 said.