By Brendan Sasso - 10/29/13 07:07 PM EDT
Senate confirms Wheeler to lead FCC
The Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler, an investor and former industry lobbyist, to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday.
The vote was delayed for two weeks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who expressed concern about Wheeler's views on political disclosure rules. Cruz lifted his objection after Wheeler assured him in a private meeting Tuesday that tougher disclosure requirements for the donors behind political TV ads are "not a priority" for him.
The Senate also unanimously confirmed Michael O'Rielly, a staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), to one of the two FCC seats reserved for Republicans. The confirmation of the two nominees returns the five-member commission to full-strength for the first time in five months.
Wheeler's experience as a lobbyist has led some liberals and consumer advocates to question whether he will be too close to the industries he will be in charge of regulating.
But many of the people who have worked with Wheeler over the years, including liberals, say they are confident he will be a fair and aggressive chairman.
"Tom Wheeler will be a strong advocate for consumers and the public interest at a time when the FCC is facing decisions that will shape the future of our nation’s telephone network and the wireless, broadband, and video industries," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who initially expressed skepticism about Wheeler before Obama tapped him for the post.
Wheeler was the president of the cable industry lobby about 30 years ago and later led the lobbying group for the cellphone carriers. In recent years, he has worked at venture capital firm Core Capital, investing in technology start-ups.
He was an early supporter of Obama, traveling to Iowa to campaign for him in 2007. He raised at least $200,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign and more than $500,000 for his reelection bid, according to transparency group OpenSecrets.
As FCC chairman, Wheeler will oversee the implementation of the FCC's plan to encourage TV stations to give up their broadcast licenses for auction to cellphone carriers. The additional airwaves will help cellphone carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for mobile data and could raise billions of dollars for the federal government. But the plan depends on a number of TV broadcasters voluntarily agreeing to go off the air.
Wheeler may also have to decide whether to attempt to reinstate the agency's net neutrality rules if a federal court sides with Verizon and strikes them down.
President Obama has urged the FCC to dramatically expand an existing program to provide faster Internet access in schools. Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism about pouring more money into the agency's E-Rate program, which is funded through fees on monthly phone bills.
A perennial issue for the FCC is how aggressively to police indecency on TV and radio. The agency has not issued any indecency fines during the Obama administration.
Wheeler will takeover from Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who will continue to serve as a commissioner. Julius Genachowski stepped down as chairman in May after four years at the agency.
Praise for Wheeler poured in Tuesday from public advocacy groups, companies and trade associations.
"We expect that he will work to preserve a strong FCC that will ensure an open, universally accessible and affordable communications system that serves all Americans," Gigi Sohn, president of consumer group Public Knowledge, said.
Steve Largent, CEO of CTIA, the cellphone lobbying group that Wheeler once led, said Wheeler's "deep knowledge of communications issues, strong leadership and clarity of vision in the dynamically changing communications sector will benefit consumers and the economy as we migrate to an increasingly mobile world."