Wheeler surrenders to republicans, cancels today's FCC agenda

17 November 2016 by Steve Blum
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The Federal Communications Commission won’t be voting today on price controls and other regulations for wholesale broadband service and facilities. Nor will it address mobile roaming standards, or adopt rules for mobile infrastructure subsidies or set requirements for audio narration of video content for the people with vision impairments. A planned (but not revealed) enforcement action has also been scrapped. All that’s left for commissioners to do today is vote on a Freedom of Information Act request.

Chairman Tom Wheeler was reacting to demands from republican members of congress to back off from making any controversial lame duck decisions before the new administration takes office and installs its own chairman with a voting majority. Maybe overreacting is a better description – that’s how John Thune, the chairman of the senate commerce committee described it when the Morning Consult news site asked him about it.

There’s no question though that the reason for the sudden and rapid retreat was pressure from congressional republicans, who are generally threatening agency heads with a life of eternal oversight hearings if they do anything interesting before Donald Trump takes office. According to the Morning Consult story by Brendon Bordelon

An FCC spokesman confirmed the schedule change was driven by Tuesday’s full-court press from Republicans in Congress urging the FCC to avoid controversial decisions in the wake of last week’s surprise election result.

“In light of the congressional letters we received, we have revised the meeting agenda,” the spokesman told Morning Consult in an email.

Technically, the wholesale broadband regulations are still on the table – the secret table; details haven’t been made public – and could be adopted while Wheeler still has a democratic majority to lean on. But that’s not the way the betting is going. Right now, a bigger priority seems to be to set the stage for the next four years. Assuming the FCC remains in the current deep freeze until January, the big question is whether democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will get a confirmation vote from the republican senate – there’s a good chance she will if Wheeler resigns quickly enough. If he hangs on, though, she’ll lose her seat at the end of the year.