FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler may have had his battles on some of his signature proposals, including the all-but-doomed set-top box proposal that was pulled from the Commission’s September Open Meeting agenda just 30 minutes before its start.
But, Wheeler was largely praised by a wide range of Washington politicos, following Thursday morning’s announcement that he will step down from his post and not stay on as a Commissioner come Jan. 20, 2017.
“Few FCC Chairs have served during a more dynamic and controversial time,” House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman-elect Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said of Wheeler. “While Tom and I have not agreed on every issue, we’ve shared a passion for expanding access to broadband communications to underserved areas of America. I wish him every success in the future.”
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which in early November sued the FCC over its media ownership rules — only to withdraw its petition in early December and instead seek an FCC reevaluation of its rules — was also gracious in its goodbye to Wheeler, who from 1992-2004 served as President/CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) and was Managing Director at Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage Internet Protocol (IP)-based companies, before joining the FCC as Chairman in November 2013.
“Chairman Wheeler has been a tenacious fighter on telecommunications issues during a period of remarkable change in the media landscape,” NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said. “We wish him well in whatever the future may hold.”
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a large supporter of Wheeler, believes “few leaders at the FCC have known how better to expand horizons by promoting competition in the telecommunications marketplace.”
Calling Wheeler a “telecommunications titan,” Markey added, “From preparing students for the global economy through the modernized E-Rate program to promoting net neutrality as the governing principle of the internet [and] to ensuring online privacy protections, Tom Wheeler has led the FCC and our nation through an important pro-consumer, pro-competition era.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Sen. Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, also chimed in.
“I wish Chairman Wheeler well in his future endeavors,” Thune said. “No one who worked with him can doubt his tenacity and passion for telecommunications policy. His public departure announcement follows longstanding precedent and helps the incoming administration transition the FCC to reflect the outcome of the November election.”
Wicker commended Wheeler for his service … and for following the tradition of stepping down in advance of a new administration.
Wicker, perhaps showing his frustration with the Wheeler Commission, added, “I look forward to working with President-elect Trump to appoint and confirm well-qualified nominees to the Commission who are committed to acting within the statutes and avoiding regulatory overreach.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took time out from her own packing to commend Wheeler.
“Making change in Washington is not for the faint of heart, but the FCC accomplished much under Chairman Tom Wheeler’s watch,” she said. “It’s been a privilege to work with the Chairman, and I’d like to thank him for his service to the Commission and to the country. He brought a long history of experience in the communications sector to the job and proved himself to be a serious advocate for his positions and for consumers. His tenure at the agency will not soon be forgotten and I wish him the best in the future.”
GOP COMMISSIONERS COMMEND OUTGOING CHAIRMAN
“Like his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, Chairman Wheeler brought passion and tenacity to the playing field each and every day,” said Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, widely believed to be the interim FCC Chairman come Inauguration 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.”
Similar sentiments were given by fellow GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.
“While we may not have always agreed on the substance or procedures of Commission work, Tom is passionate about his views and committed to solving communications problems, including our work together on Rate of Return reform,” he said. “More importantly, I enjoyed the chance to get to know him on a personal level and chat on non-work matters, especially about our families. I wish Tom great success in any future endeavors he pursues.”
ACA: WHEELER ‘AN ABLE STEWARD’ OF U.S. COMMUNICATIONS LAWS
Even American Cable Association (ACA) President/CEO Matthew M. Polka wished Chairman Wheeler “nothing but success as he enters a new phase in his celebrated career in the world of communications, both in government and the private sector.”
Yet, Polka made it clear that “the decision not to fully address the broken retransmission consent regime was a disappointment.”
Still, under Wheeler’s direction, Polka believes the FCC did take some key steps “to curb TV stations’ abuse of their regulatory advantages over smaller multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), including, but not limited to, the FCC’s landmark decision in March 2014 to ban retransmission consent collusion among non-commonly owned TV stations serving in the same local market.”
“Although we did not see eye to eye on some very big issues, ACA appreciates that Chairman Wheeler was an able steward of the nation’s communications laws and was someone who always gave independent cable the opportunity to be heard and receive full and fair consideration,” Polka said. “Consistent with its bipartisan approach to finding the right policy outcomes, ACA looks forward to working with Chairman Wheeler’s successor in continuing to move the country forward and delivering the broadband abundance that consumers so badly want and deserve.”