Change coming to the FCC

While the Supreme Court has more significant long term effects, the selection of Trump will profoundly change the FCC. The FCC is legally not a direct part of the government – it is an independent “commission” that operates independently, deriving its funding from license fees.

The government has two methods to control the FCC – Section 73 of the US code lays out the rules that empower the FCC. The FCC has no legal basis in jumping into “net neutrality”. Legal challenges are probable.

The other means of control is the selection of FCC board members. There are 5 members – the law says that no more than 3 members may belong to the political party of the President. That would not prevent 3 Republicans and two Libertarians 😉

Chairman is chosen by the President, not the other members. One of the existing members is the daughter of an influential Democratic Congressman and completely unprepared and unqualified to do the job. Chairman Wheeler has been steamrolling things one after the other, ignoring holding hearings, circulating proposals for comment, etc. things are particularly bitter between Wheeler and Republican Amit Pai. Pai opposed the regulatory takeover of the Internet by the FCC.


It is customary for the board members to offer to resign on a change of party, but not a requirement. They serve for 5 year terms and are subject to Senate confirmation. Typically one US Senator uses their veto power to enforce that the balance remain 3-2, or 2-1 with commissioners approved in pairs, so the Commission doesn’t wind up 3-0 because of blocked nominees. Pai is very likely to be proposed as FCC Chairman. He is best known for his campaign to save AM radio. The other Republican is a communications law attorney who can turn ideas into legalese. It is common for the FCC to draft regulations for new things and hand it to Congress to add in to section 73. Your average Congressman could not explain the difference between ionospheric reflection and ground wave propagation. That’s why Congress lets the FCC write its own rules.

It’s very likely this change at the top will panic sellers to conclude the FCC spectrum auction for TV to wireless reassignment, or the entire process might be scrapped under new leadership. Wheeler is a cell phone company guy, so the process reflects his opinions, like blocking ATT and Verizon from buying more spectrum, and instead giving it to Carlos Slim from Mexico.

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2 Responses to Change coming to the FCC

  1. Fred Stiening says:

    This highlights why a Republican Senate needs to scrap the rules of the Senate if Trump really wants change. Lowering the cloture limit to end a filibuster to 20 and ending the right of a single Senator to block an appointment is a good starting place. Mitch McConnell is not going to do that.

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