The question of who will lead the FCC under the Trump administration continues to get murkier.
David Fellows, a former CTO at both AT&T and Comcast, has emerged as another candidate to replace Tom Wheeler as chair of the commission, The New York Post reported this week. Fellows is the co-founder of Layer3 TV, an IP-delivered premium pay-TV service that recently began conducting prelaunch tests in Boston, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Other likely candidates for the top FCC post are Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans currently on the commission, and Jeffrey Eisenach, an economist on Trump’s FCC transition team alongside former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamison. Phil Weiser, a University of Colorado law professor and former White House adviser, may also be considered for either the chair or as a commissioner, the Post reported.
Wheeler’s tenure as chairman will end when Trump takes office Jan. 20, but he may opt to stay on as a Democratic commissioner until his term ends in November 2018. He has yet to discuss his plans.
Regardless, Trump’s election victory is sure to give Republicans the same one-vote advantage on the five-seat commission that Democrats enjoyed under President Obama. And while Trump has yet to outline detailed policy plans, the transition team he named last week signals a far lighter regulatory touch than Wheeler’s FCC employed. Both Eisenach and Jamison have vocally objected to the net neutrality principles that have been a top priority for the FCC under the Obama administration, for instance, and Jamison has gone as far as to question any need for the FCC at all.
The new administration is also likely to be more conducive to consolidation in telecom, greenlighting mergers and acquisitions that might not have been approved under Obama. Speculation of a tie-up between T-Mobile and Sprint has increased since Trump’s win—although that scenario is no certainty—and the market could see more vertical mergers such as AT&T’s proposed deal with Time Warner.
“Under Chairman Wheeler, a great deal of energy was spent on availing spectrum to the carriers, and other interested parties,” Jefferies wrote this week in a research note to investors. “At the same time, a more heavy handed posture was adopted that stymied M&A, enacted new regulation on both wireless and wireline broadband, favored non-discriminatory access to the Internet, and left what we view as outdated media ownership rules unchanged. We expect the new leadership to take a much different stance on many of these issues.”