FCC’s Wheeler Following Predecessors to Aspen Institute


Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler revealed his first post-FCC gig in a Washington, D.C., speech Jan. 13.

Like the last five FCC chairmen before him, Wheeler will join the Aspen Institute as a senior fellow with the think tank’s Communications and Society Program. In a speech at the institute’s Washington headquarters, Wheeler joked that the program amounts to a “retirement home” for departing FCC chairs.

Wheeler is set to exit the agency Jan. 20, as President-elect Donald Trump takes office, leaving Republicans with a 2-1 majority on the commission. It’s not yet clear if Wheeler will take on another role in concert with his institute fellowship, or how long he intends to stay at the organization.

The program’s goal is promoting “integrated, thoughtful, values-based decision making in the fields of communications, media and information policy,” according to the institute’s website.

Wheeler followed his announcement with a speech largely centered on defending his 2015 net neutrality rules rooted in the reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service. The reclassification was upheld in a 2016 court decision, but Republicans on the FCC and in Congress are widely expected to attempt to reverse the reclassification and introduce looser net neutrality rules.

Wheeler cautioned that the FCC “will have a high hurdle to prove to the same court why its 2016 decision was wrong,” should it try to change course on its own. Overall, a loosening of net neutrality protections “means taking away protections that consumers in the online world enjoy today,” he said.