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Wheeler to step down as FCC chairman

In a move likely to guarantee a Republican majority at the FCC on President-elect Donald Trump's first day in office, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Dec. 15 that he will step down from the agency, effective Jan. 20.

"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.

Wheeler, a Democrat, led the FCC for three years, having been appointed to the commission in November 2013 by President Barack Obama.

Prior to joining the FCC, Wheeler was managing director at Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage IP-based companies. He also served as president and CEO of Shiloh Group LLC, a strategy development and private investment company specializing in telecommunications services. From 1979 to 1984, Wheeler served as president and CEO of the group now known as NCTA - The Internet & Television Association, giving him close ties to the cable industry.

During his tenure, Wheeler championed the Open Internet order and its related net neutrality rules. He also advocated for opening up more spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use; and he pushed to open up the set-top box market, though that proceeding has yet to see any resolution.

Republicans have been openly calling for Wheeler's exit since the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. Although it is the general practice of the current FCC chairman to step down when a new president comes into office, Wheeler's term at the FCC technically did not expire until November 2018.

It also is widely expected that Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will have to leave the agency at the end of the year, as her current term has not been reconfirmed by the Senate. With Wheeler and Rosenworcel both exiting, Republicans would have a 2-1 majority at the commission in January 2017 prior to any new appointments by the Trump administration.

In related news, the FCC also stripped most of the items from its Dec. 15 meeting agenda.