New FCC chairman is “former lobbyist for cable & wireless industries”
April 30, 2013
President Barack Obama will nominate venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, The Wall Street Journal reported today. Wheeler is “a former top lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries” and will be nominated as soon as tomorrow, the Journal wrote. The Hill reporter Brendan Sasso said the White House has now confirmed that Wheeler will be nominated for the post.
The top FCC post is empty because of the departure of Chairman Julius Genachowski. When Genachowski announced his decision to step down last month, we wrote that he was “lauded by industry” and “blasted by activists” because of moves that benefited corporations instead of consumers. Genachowski won praise from consumer advocates in some instances, but the decision to let wireless operators evade net neutrality rules and his approval of mergers such as Comcast/NBCUniversal were criticized by groups pushing for more competition in communications industries.
Wheeler has been a venture capitalist at Core Capital Partners since 2005. “Tom was President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984,” his Core Capital biography states. “After several years as CEO of various technology start-ups, including the first company to offer high-speed data to the home and the first digital video delivery service, he was asked to lead the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), where he was CEO until 2004.”
Wheeler is an “Obama loyalist,” Time reporter Sam Gustin wrote two weeks ago while describing him as the front-runner for the FCC nomination. Wheeler previously received an appointment from Obama to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
"Mr. Wheeler will take over as the commission confronts a changing technology world," the Journal wrote. “Many of its regulations were crafted for outdated telephone technology. Democrats would like to apply many of these rules to new communications methods, such as wireless technology and broadband Internet. But it isn’t clear whether Mr. Wheeler is on board with that approach.”
Law professor and net neutrality supporter Susan Crawford gained some support from FCC observers hoping the next commission head would be a champion for broadband competition. Crawford, author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” was never seen as a likely choice for Obama, though. She wasn’t corrupt enough for the current administration.
"Despite that vote of confidence, many in the public interest community remain suspicious of Wheeler—even as they acknowledge that he’s the frontrunner—due to his industry lobbying and the fact that his positions on the major issues facing the FCC remain largely unknown," Gustin wrote. "In late March, more than two dozen public interest groups wrote to Obama expressing alarm that the president was considering a candidate ‘who was the head of not one but two major industry lobbying groups.’"
Tom’s past history as the head of two industry trade associations should deeply trouble you. Free Press, one of the groups lobbying against Wheeler, issued a telling statement.
"The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader—someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest," Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said. "On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations."