FCC Shake-up Could Kill Net Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler has confirmed he’ll leave the commission on January 20. It guarantees a Republican-leaning majority on the commission and could spell doom for net neutrality rules.

The political make-up of the FCC’s board of commissioners has been a significant issue during Wheeler’s time in office, with many votes being a straight 3-2 split in favour of Democrat appointees. The period included two significant rulings, the first being the formal adoptions of specific rules to enforce the principle of net neutrality.

That sparked furious debate about whether the FCC had the authority to make such rules in the first case when it came to Internet issues. In turn that led to the FCC formally reclassifying broadband as a “common carrier” service, meaning the FCC can regulate it in the same way as fixed-line telephone services. While that decision prompted some legal challenges, it has so far held up.

Both of those rulings could now be under threat of reversal. The FCC’s commissioner board had already been changed to a 2-2 split when the Senate refused to appoint Jessica Rosenworcel for a new term.

Although Wheeler’s term of office as a commissioner runs until 2018, the President has the right to select which of the five commissioners will serve as chairman. While it seemed virtually inevitable Donald Trump would replace Wheeler in that role, it remained possible Wheeler would continue on as a commissioner.

Now he’s confirmed he won’t do so, the commission will now begin Trump’s office with two Republicans and one Democrat. That leaves two slots to fill, with the most likely names tipped as Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach. Not only are both former lobbyists (for Sprint and Verizon) respectively, but Eisenhach has previously spoken out against net neutrality.

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