President Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), succeeding outgoing chair Julius Genachowski, who will step down later this month. Current Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will serve as acting chair until Wheeler’s appointment has been confirmed.
Wheeler is currently a managing director at Core Capital Partners. Based in Washington, D.C., the venture capital company invests in early stage ventures and small to mid-sized growth companies developing or incorporating disruptive core technologies in high-growth technology sectors.
“He was one of the leaders of a company that helped create thousands of good, high-tech jobs,” the President said. “He’s in charge of the group that advises the FCC on the latest technology issues. He’s helped give American consumers more choices and better products.”
Wheeler also sits on the boards of Roundbox, UpdateLogic, Twisted Pair Solutions, EarthLink, and TNS. He is a former president of the National Cable Television Association and a former CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). He has worked with the FCC as well.
“I was pleased to appoint Tom as Chairman of the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council in 2010, and under his leadership the TAC has made strong contributions to the FCC’s work, including on unleashing spectrum for mobile, removing barriers to private investment, and strengthening our cyber security,” Genachowski said.
Obama also said that Wheeler will help the FCC “give businesses and workers the tools they need to compete in the 21st century economy, and making sure we’re staying at the cutting edge of an industry that again and again we’ve revolutionized here in America.”
Additionally, Wheeler is the author of the 2008 book, Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War. Yet he will have to navigate 21st century challenges, such as the crowded wireless spectrum, net neutrality, the spread of wireless broadband, and corporate mergers. Reaction to his nomination from the industry and from watchdog groups has been mixed.
“Tom has a deep understanding of communications issues, a passion for hard work and creative thinking, a diverse background that spans the realm of the Internet world and a keen understanding of how mobile wireless broadband can drive our economy and innovation,” said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA—The Wireless Association.
“His experience and leadership will serve the commission well as it addresses policies involving the rapidly changing broadband and wireless industries,” said Craig Silliman, senior vice president of public policy at Verizon. “Verizon looks forward to working with him and the commission to shape pro-consumer and pro-innovation policies in the communications marketplace.”
“I am skeptical that the former chief lobbyist of the wireless and cable industries will be capable of holding his former clients accountable for their ongoing shortcomings,” said Sascha Meinrath, vice president of the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan public policy institute, and director of the group’s Open Technology Institute.
"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,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a media and technology watchdog group. “On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations. But he now has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong, clean up the mess left by his predecessor, and be the public servant we so badly need at the FCC.”