Tom Wheeler, the former cable industry lobbyist appointed to head the Federal Communications Commission by President Obama, announced on Thursday that he would resign on Inauguration Day.
Wheeler’s decision to stick with the voluntary protocol by stepping down when a new president is elected likely spells a quick death for his major communications policies, including net neutrality rules that prohibit discrimination against Internet sites and services. New privacy rules for broadband Internet service and a tough approach to proposed mergers are also likely on the chopping block.
Some in Washington thought Wheeler might delay his resignation after Senate Republicans refused to take up the renomination of Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel before adjoining over the weekend. Without Senate action, Rosenworcel will have step down shortly, leaving the agency deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans.
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But once Wheeler steps down, the two Republicans will form a 2-1 majority. One of those members, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, is in the running to be named chairman once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. And Pai has already said that Republicans plan to “fire up the weed whacker” to cut down Wheeler’s various regulatory efforts.
All three of the people Trump named to his transition team overseeing the FCC are staunch opponents of the net neutrality rules that the agency adopted last year and that were upheld in court in June. Last month, 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. Finally, he 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.
Fortune reached out to the three transition officials for comment and will update this story if any response is received.
Meanwhile, the FCC could move quickly next year to roll back the net neutrality rules. Under the rules, Internet service providers like Comcast (CMCSA) and Verizon are barred from blocking, slowing access to or otherwise discriminating against web sites and online services. Two weeks ago, the agency alleged that Verizon and AT&T (T) might be in violation of the rules by letting wireless customers watch streaming video services owned by the carriers on mobile phones without using up their data allowances.
Republicans in Congress have also sought to undo the net neutrality rules via legislation.