FCC's Wheeler May Need To Stick Around If He Doesn't Want His Legacy Demolished
from the rock-and-a-hard-place dept
Now, with an incoming Trump administration making it very clear in public comments the goal is to kill net neutrality and gut the FCC as consumer broadband watchdog, the lion's share of Wheeler's efforts are poised to be demolished.
This puts Wheeler in a notably prickly predicament. Wheeler's term technically extends until 2018, but under FCC rules he would be downgraded from Chairman to just vanilla commissioner should he stay on. If Wheeler leaves, the current FCC would face an immediate 2-1 Republican advantage. If he stays, the FCC remains with an even partisan 2-2 split, with Wheeler and Mignon Clyburn on one side, and Ajit Pai and Mike O'Rielly on the other -- at least until a new FCC boss is appointed to round out the five-person FCC leadership.
Senate confirmation could take a large chunk of 2017, delaying any substantive policy changes. But if Wheeler chooses to leave, the 2-1 voting advantage would allow those looking to eliminate net neutrality and other recent FCC initiatives a running head start. Wheeler's predicament is thanks, in part, to the GOP refusing to renew current FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to another term, something leaders originally promised they'd do -- then backed away from realizing they might have an advantage. Wheeler tried to force the issue last week when he said he'd resign immediately if Rosenworcel was reappointed to a new term.
But Republicans refused to make any such deal hoping to gain the early advantage:
"Republicans previously said they would not reconfirm Rosenworcel unless Wheeler resigned, because one Democrat must exit the FCC to let President-elect Donald Trump appoint a new Republican and give his party a 3-2 majority. But by the time Wheeler promised to do so, Republicans had other ideas. There wasn't enough time left in the Senate's session to handle Rosenworcel's confirmation, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. Other Republicans supported taking no action on Rosenworcel because they hope both she and Wheeler will leave and give Republicans an immediate 2-1 majority."In an ideal world, partisan pattycake wouldn't dictate important technological issues of the age. Especially since issues like net neutrality actually have broad bipartisan support, and are only shoehorned into the mold of partisan politics because they operate in a dysfunctional vacuum. Ensuring that there's broadband competition (and by proxy cheaper, better service) enjoys similar bipartisan support among consumers. As does not letting incumbent ISPs write harmful protectionist state legislation solely to protect incumbent revenues from competition.
None of this is probably a particularly enjoyable position for the 70-year-old Wheeler to inhabit. Instead of enjoying his retirement, Wheeler faces being forced to stick around if he doesn't want four years of hard work dismantled. And even if he does stick around, he'll inevitably find himself at the mercy of a 3-2 minority position anyway, one where he'll spend four years losing an endless series of 3-2 votes that carefully chip away at everything he fought for. In short, the recovering dingo is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't -- music to the ears of those looking to strip away neutrality and other consumer protections.