Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced this morning that he is stepping down as of Jan. 20, 2017, the date that President-elect Donald Trump is scheduled to become President.
“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”
Wheeler has helmed the FCC since November 2013. His five-year term was set to expire in November, 2018. It was under his chairmanship that the FCC dramatically altered the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in July 2015, impacting collection agencies and how individuals are contacted. The declaratory ruling expanded the scope of what defines an autodialer, and broadened the means in which consumers could revoke consent to be contacted.
Reports were circulating last week that Wheeler would agree to step down, only if Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the five commissioners that make up the top of the FCC, was re-confirmed for another five-year term. Rosenworcel, a Democrat, is due to have her term expire this month. With Wheeler leaving and Rosenworcel potentially on the way out, that would give Republicans a 2-to-1 majority at the FCC until a new chairman and a new commissioner are confirmed.
It is possible that a Republican-led FCC may opt to undo the changes to the TCPA.