By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to step down on Jan. 20, he said on Thursday, a move expected to hand Republicans a 2-1 majority on the panel when Donald Trump takes office as president.
Wheeler could have temporarily kept the commission at 2-2 until Trump named a new member who needs to be confirmed by the Senate. Last week, two Republican FCC commissioners said the Trump administration should quickly reverse many significant policies set by the telecommunications and cable regulatory body under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Unless the U.S. Senate reconfirms Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, she will have to leave at end of the month. Trump will get to select the next chairman.
Wheeler, a former cable TV and mobile phone industry lobbyist, repeatedly clashed with companies during his tenure at the FCC, especially over the 2015 order to reclassify broadband internet service providers under a section of communications law that treats them more like public utilities and subjects them to stricter regulation as part of the commission's "net neutrality" rules.
The rules bar broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a "fast lane" on the information superhighway, to certain services over others.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, said last week he believed the net neutrality rules' "days are numbered." He also said he hoped the commission would eliminate many regulations and propose fewer new actions.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)