Wheeler Gets FCC Send-Off

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's last meeting Dec. 15 was something of a like-fest, and in public statements his fellow commissioners took turns saluting their exiting leader.

It was short of a love-fest given the tensions between the chairman and Republicans and the chairman's complicated relationship with Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Rosenworcel had issues with the chairman's set-top box revamp, which ultimately failed to get a vote before Republicans warned the FCC off contentious items during the transition. Her re-nomination vote never materialized either, with some on the Hill and at the FCC pointing a finger at Wheeler's failure to clearly declare his intentions to leave. The chairman said this week he had made it clear to Republicans, whose reasoning for not voting he suggested had more to do with wanting a 2-1 majority ASAP.

Despite the back-stories, the public parting was an amicable one.

"Like his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, Chairman Wheeler brought passion and tenacity to the playing field each and every day," said senior Republican commissioner and likely interim chair Ajit Pai. "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."

Related: Analysis: Tom Wheeler's FCC Legacy

“I truly thank Chairman Wheeler for his public service to our country," said Republican 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. 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."

Rosenworcel's statement was measured, suggesting the chairman had stuck to his guns and made his mark.

"Making change in Washington is not for the faint of heart, but the Federal Communications Commission 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."

"Whether you agreed with him or not, Tom Wheeler, my chairman, has made a bold impact on this agency and this ecosystem," said Democrat Mignon Clyburn. "Maybe we should not really be surprised: his years of experience with industry, his ability to make tough decisions, and his willingness to fiercely stand up for and protect his client. Fortunately for all of us, since late fall of 2013, the American consumer has been the direct beneficiary of his quest for competition, competition, competition and consumer protection."

She added, on a personal note: "Tom Wheeler, you have helped to make me a better Commissioner. You have both challenged and assisted me to advance key priorities that will continue to make a difference in the lives of millions."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.