(Adds reaction, details)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON Dec 15 U.S. Federal Communications
Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to step down on Jan. 20,
he said on Thursday, a move expected to hand Republicans a 2-1
majority on the panel when Donald Trump takes office as
Wheeler could have kept the commission at 2-2 until Trump
names a new member who needs to be confirmed by the Senate. Last
week, two Republican FCC commissioners said the Trump
administration should quickly reverse many significant policies
set by the telecommunications and cable regulatory body under
Democratic President Barack Obama.
Unless the U.S. Senate reconfirms Democratic Commissioner
Jessica Rosenworcel, she will have to leave at end of the month.
Senate Democrats on Thursday held out the possibility that
Republicans could put her back on the FCC next year.
With the departures of Wheeler and Rosenworcel, the only
remaining Democrat on the panel would be Mignon Clyburn, whose
term does not expire until June 2017.
Trump will get to select the next chairman.
Wheeler, a former cable TV and mobile phone industry
lobbyist, repeatedly clashed with companies during his tenure at
the FCC, especially over the 2015 order to reclassify broadband
internet service providers under a section of communications law
that treats them more like public utilities and subjects them to
stricter regulation as part of the commission's "net neutrality"
The rules bar broadband providers from giving or selling
access to speedy internet, essentially a "fast lane" on the
information superhighway, to certain services over others.
Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, said last week he
believed the net neutrality rules' "days are numbered." He also
said he hoped the commission would eliminate many regulations
and propose fewer actions.
Wheeler also scrutinized a series of proposed mergers,
demanding significant conditions to some and rejecting others.
In 2015, Wheeler blocked Comcast Corp's proposed $45
billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and said the FCC had
serious concerns about allowing a tie-up of Sprint Corp
and T-Mobile US.
Republican Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said last week that
the FCC under Trump needed to "undo the more harmful policies
adopted by the current commission."
O'Rielly criticized the FCC's decision in October to impose
stricter privacy rules on internet service providers than on
websites like Facebook Inc or Twitter Inc.
Last month Wheeler dropped plans to push through a proposed
reform of the $45 billion business data services market. He also
dropped a plan to allow pay TV subscribers to ditch their
Former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a partner at Carlyle
Group LP, said Wheeler "fought relentlessly for
broadband, competition and consumers, and our country's
innovation economy today is strong and world-leading."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and
Lisa Von Ahn)