FCC chairman says Jan. 20 will be his last day

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, whose rebuke to the satellite industry over unwillingness to compromise over 5G spectrum sent shivers down many a spine, has declared his intent to leave office before Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Wheeler announced Thursday that Jan. 20 — inauguration day — will mark his final day at the helm of the telecom regulatory agency.

“Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity,” Wheeler said.

Appointed by President Barack Obama in May 2015, Wheeler became the 31st FCC chairman on Nov. 4, 2013. This past March, Wheeler scolded the satellite industry for its behavior at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva, where the satellite industry rebuffed U.S.-led attempts to evaluate sharing Ka-band spectrum with terrestrial services for 5G.

“Such intransigence was frustrating. I do not believe it was in the satellite industry’s interest to stop the [International Telecommunication Union] from even exploring sharing at 28 GHz,” Wheeler said in an address at the 19th Annual Satellite Leadership Dinner organized by the Satellite Industry Association.

President-elect Trump, who is still choosing his cabinet, has not said who he will appoint to head the FCC. On Dec.10, the Trump transition team named three people to the president-elect’s FCC landing team: Jeff Eisenach, Mark Jamison and Roslyn Layton.

Eisenach, an economist who leads the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communication and Technology, emerged prior to the election as Trump’s point person for telecom policy matters. Jamison and Layton are American Enterprise Institute visiting fellows.

Jamison, an economist who worked on regulatory policy at Sprint in the mid-1990s and currently serves as director of the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, was critical of Wheeler in a Nov. 15 article he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute’s website. “Perhaps the most challenging job for the new chairman will be rebuilding the agency’s credibility, pushing back the political opportunists, and mending the commission’s internal divisions,” Jamison wrote.

Layton a PhD fellow at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, wrote a Nov. 17 column for U.S. News and World Reports urging the next administration to make good on “the U.S. government’s spectrum sharing promise.”

The next FCC chairman will most likely oversee the bulk of the U.S.’ buildup to 5G. Last week the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) focus group on the network aspects of 5G held its final meeting in Geneva. The group completed a preliminary study on what will be required to make 5G live up to expectations, and has five draft international standards and four draft technical reports undergoing final editing.

Once those reports are complete, the focus group will pass the baton to an ITU standardization body focused on future networks, particularly 5G, cloud computing and trusted network infrastructures.

As the “5G train” looms closer, some satellite operators have demonstrated more interest in being involved in defining standards. Luxembourg-based global satellite operator SES said Dec. 12 it has joined the leadership of the 5G Infrastructure Association, which functions as the private half of the European Commission’s 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (PPP). The European Commission established the 1.4 billion euro initiative between itself and industry to pave the way for 5G in Europe.