White House press secretary Jay Carney defended Wheeler's past as a lobbyist during a briefing on Wednesday, noting that he worked for the wireless industry nearly a decade ago and the cable industry nearly three decades ago. He argued that when Wheeler was the top wireless lobbyist, the cellphone carriers were disruptive upstarts rather than the established giants they are today.
"He’s an experienced telecommunications leader who shares the president’s commitment to protecting consumers, promoting innovation, enhancing competition and encouraging investment," Carney said.
Sanders argued that the next FCC chairman should prevent further consolidation of media companies.
"I agree with the overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose more media consolidation because it would result in less local control, fewer outlets offering differing viewpoints and less ownership diversity," Sanders said.
He added that he looks forward to hearing Wheeler's position on the issue of media consolidation, calling it a "matter of enormous consequence."
Two prominent House Republicans also raised concerns about Wheeler on Wednesday, pointing to his past writings on AT&T's failed bid to buy T-Mobile.
In an April 2011 blog post, Wheeler suggested that the FCC should allow the merger on the condition that AT&T agree to aggressive new regulations on the management of its network.
Wheeler wrote that regulators had the opportunity "to impose on AT&T merger conditions that could define the four corners of wireless regulation going forward; rules that would ultimately impact all wireless carriers."
The FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski and the Justice Department ultimately blocked the merger over concerns it would stifle competition and lead to higher prices.
In a statement, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy Communications and Technology subcommittee, said they are concerned about Wheeler's view that "merger conditions ... can be misused to affect whole industries, not just those seeking merger approval."
The lawmakers said the FCC should rely on its regular rule-making process if it wants to change industry behavior, rather than using "closed door, strong-arm merger conditions."
Most industry groups and lawmakers offered praise for Wheeler.
"Mr. Wheeler’s years of experience at the leading edge of communications policy will be a tremendous asset to the agency and the public interest," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, called Wheeler a "smart choice."
"Tom Wheeler will bring a deep understanding of the wireless industry,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said. “He is a good choice for the FCC during an exciting and tumultuous time for communications policy. The President had a number of solid candidates for the job but Tom’s longtime innovative leadership in the communications industry will be a great asset.”
AT&T, which clashed frequently with the FCC under Genachowski, called Wheeler an "inspired pick."
"Mr. Wheeler’s combination of high intelligence, broad experience, and in-depth knowledge of the industry may, in fact, make him one of the most qualified people ever named to run the agency," Jim Cicconi, an AT&T vice president, said in a statement.
USTelecom CEO Walter McCormick called Wheeler an "extraordinary choice" and urged the Senate to quickly approve his nomination.