FCC chairman warns next administration: Don't go backward

Time Warner, AT&T CEOs on $85 billion merger
Time Warner, AT&T CEOs on $85 billion merger

The outgoing chairman of the Federal Communications Commission issued an impassioned warning to the next administration: Don't go backwards.

"We are at a fork in the road. One path leads forward. The other leads back to re-litigating solutions that are demonstrably working," Tom Wheeler said in his final public speech as head of the FCC on Friday, according to prepared remarks.

"It is time to keep moving forward," he added in the speech at the Aspen Institute. "This is not the time to retreat and take things away."

Wheeler focused much of his speech on upholding net neutrality regulations, which are intended to keep the Internet and open fair. The rules, approved in early 2015, require Internet service providers to treat traffic from all web services and apps equally.

Donald Trump has named several advisers to a "landing team" to handle the transition process at the FCC who oppose the net neutrality rules. The two Republican commissioners at the FCC pledged last month to revisit net neutrality "as soon as possible."

"We must be vigilant," Wheeler said. "And the first step in such vigilance is to ask those who want to rush to take away existing protections a simple question: Where's the fire?"

Related: Net neutrality advocates brace for fight with Trump

The same advocates who held demonstrations online and offline to push for the net neutrality protections two years ago have been bracing for a renewed fight ever since Trump won.

"The Trump administration is just the latest and perhaps most significant threat to come our way since the 2015 win," Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, said in an earlier interview. "We're ready and united."

While net neutrality has been a centerpiece of Wheeler's administration, it is certainly not the only regulation at risk. In fact, the FCC as an institution may have to fight for its right to exist.

"Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away," Mark Jamison, one of Trump's advisers on the FCC landing team, wrote in an article in October. "The only FCC activity that would seem to warrant having an independent agency is the licensing of radio spectrum."

Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, was appointed to the chairman position three years ago by President Obama and quickly established himself as the cable industry's worst enemy.

Under Wheeler's leadership, the FCC approved net neutrality regulations, pushed for set-top box reform and helped block the massive merger between Comcast (CCV) and Time Warner Cable.

Wheeler announced in December that he would step down as chairman at the end of Obama's term in office, giving Trump the ability to name a replacement immediately.

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