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Trump May Appoint Pence Ally And Telecom Deregulator To FCC

November 30, 2016, 9:32 PM UTC
Internet Providers Should Guarantee Equal Access to All Users, Obama Says
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. President Barack Obama called for the "strongest possible rules" to protect the open Internet, advocating stricter controls than a regulator he appointed and causing shares of Comcast Corp. and other broadband providers to drop. Obama's comments tilt the White House against positions advocated by broadband providers and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Harrer —Bloomberg via Getty Images

A former ally of Vice President-elect Mike Pence with a strong focus on deregulation could be in line for an appointment to the Federal Communications Commission, possibly as the next chairman.

Brandt Hershman, a longtime Indiana state senator, is rumored to be the leading candidate for an opening on the agency, which oversees the telecommunications, broadcasting, and cable industries, Politico reported on Wednesday citing unnamed sources. Hershman worked closely with the vice president-elect after Pence was elected Indiana’s governor in 2012.

Hershman declined to comment.

The current senate majority floor leader, Hershman authored a massive law to deregulate telecommunications in Indiana a decade ago. The bill ended government regulation of phone rates, freed up cable companies from needing to get dozens of local licenses to offer service, and stopped cities and towns from setting up their own municipal broadband services.

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The FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler, appointed by President Obama, has pressed several major regulatory initiatives, including net neutrality rules to prevent Internet providers from blocking or charging more for access to any web site or online service. Wheeler also pushed online privacy rules that apply to Internet service providers. The chairman dropped his efforts to break the cable industry’s set top box monopoly, however.

Analysts expect an FCC run by a Trump appointee would roll back those rules, which have been opposed by Republicans in Congress and major communications companies. The president’s party typically occupies three of the commission’s five seats, and the president designates one member as chairman. Trump could name a new appointee such as Hershman chairman or possibly designate current Republican FCC member Ajit Pai as chairman.

Trump has already named three prominent opponents of net neutrality to his transition team overseeing the FCC. Two weeks ago, he picked Jeff Eisenach, an economist who has been on Verizon’s (VZ) payroll, and Mark Jamison, who formerly worked on Sprint’s (S) lobbying team and now heads the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center. This week, trump added Roslyn Layton, a telecom industry consultant and visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who has opposed both the net neutrality and privacy rules.

For more on the net neutrality debate, watch:

Several other names in addition to Hershman’s are also circulating in the Washington rumor mill as possible Trump FCC selections, Politico reported, including Eisenach, Ellen Nowak, head of Wisconsin’s public service commission; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican lawmaker; and Mike Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association trade group.

Republicans in Congress have been seeking to overturn the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules since they were enacted. But the threat of an Obama veto prevented the maneuver to kill the rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission in February 2015, later upheld in court in June.

(Update: This story was updated on Dec. 2 to add Hershman declined to comment.)