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Republicans Tell FCC Chairman to Quit Making New Rules

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photograph by Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission appointed by President Obama, had plans to crack the cable monopoly on set-top boxes and a few other ambitious items still on his agenda.

But on Tuesday, leading Congressional Republicans who oversee the FCC wrote to Wheeler and told him, in essence, time is up. President-elect Donald Trump will appoint a new chair to the agency shortly after taking office next year, they noted.

“I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing,” Senator John Thune, Republican from South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote to Wheeler. Thune said Wheeler should pursue only “consensus and administrative matters.”

Congressmen Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who head the House Commerce Committee, sent a similar letter. The FCC has received the letters and is reviewing them, a spokesman for the agency said.

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Wheeler has drawn the ire of Republicans for his move last year to ensure net neutrality by imposing common carrier regulation on Internet service providers. Republicans have also criticized new privacy rules imposed on Internet service providers and Wheeler’s failed plan to crack the cable industry’s set top box monopoly.

With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House next year, some of Wheeler’s handiwork may be scaled back or repealed.

Most analysts expect the 2015 net neutrality rules will be sharply scaled back. Trump’s FCC transition leader is economist Jeffrey Eisenach, who has been a leading voice in Washington against net neutrality, while also on the payroll of Verizon Communications (VZ).

The letters could also complicate the FCC’s last ditch efforts to challenge AT&T’s (T) practice of favoring its own streaming video services by allowing customers to watch the services without counting against monthly data allowances. The agency had allowed so-called zero rating to proliferate among wireless carriers until it questioned AT&T about its practices on November 9. The challenge is based on the net neutrality rules.

For background on the FCC net neutrality rules, watch:

Wheeler’s set-top box reform, which at one point would have forced cable providers to allow customers to use boxes made by any company, is already stymied. Amid sharp opposition from the cable industry and its allies in Congress, Wheeler pulled even a watered down version of the proposal from an FCC meeting in September.

Still, no one knows for sure what Trump’s agenda will be for FCC policy. The area was not a focus during the campaign, and Trump has offered little or no guidance about his thinking on the issues. Most likely, however, he will go along with the long-stated desires of Congressional Republicans to roll back Wheeler’s legacy.