Donald Trump did not get to the White House by a conventional route, and his regulatory policies could follow the same peripatetic course. He has expressed distaste for Title II, and he came out vehemently against the merger of AT&T/Time Warner Cable and similar consolidations among media companies.
Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, for example, concentrated “far too much power” in the hands of “one massive entity that is trying to tell the voters what to think and what to do,” Trump railed. He said deals like it “destroy democracy,” and his administration would look closely at the conglomerate and others of similar size and makeup.
The choice of the FCC leader is not usually one of the first priorities of a transition team, but Trump has signaled its desire to do so quickly. The most recent Democratic FCC chairmen have been outside choices. Tom Wheeler had helped with the Obama tech transition, and Julius Genachowski was the president’s former law school classmate.
But the most recent Republican chairs, Kevin Martin and Michael Powell, were plucked from the ranks of sitting commissioners, and the same could apply this time. Senior Republican commissioner Ajit Pai is well-liked in industry circles and will likely be at least interim chairman if current chief Tom Wheeler exits by Jan. 20, which is certainly a possibility. Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will have to leave the FCC by the end of December unless the current Senate reconfirms her. There was a chance of that, but it is now unlikely since her exit would remove the Democratic majority on the commission, and Wheeler’s exit would give Republicans a 2-1 majority.
The Republicans will have the majority once a permanent FCC chairman is nominated and confirmed, but that could take six months or longer. Along with Pai, another name of note is Jeffrey Eisenach, a deregulatory free-market economist who is a member of the transition team.
Pai has generally supported the kinds of media mergers Trump attacked on the campaign trail, and many expect Trump to moderate his anti-media rhetoric now that the campaign is over. As a supporter of loosening media ownership regs, Pai could prioritize the FCC getting rid of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules or rolling back the Wheeler-led tightening of TV station joint sales agreements.