Obama nominates Wheeler as new FCC chairman

The venture capitalist has served as the head of two telecom-related trade groups

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated telecom trade group veteran Tom Wheeler to be the next chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Wheeler's nomination, announced Wednesday, ends weeks of speculation that he was the top choice to replace outgoing Chairman Julius Genachowski. Wheeler, a managing director at Washington, D.C., venture capital firm Core Capital Partners, served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984 and as CEO of mobile carrier trade group CTIA from 1992 to 2004.

Wheeler has also served as CEO of some tech startups and he co-founded SmartBrief, an online targeted news service. In 2009, he led the Obama transition team focused on science, technology, space and arts agencies.

Obama on Wednesday also appointed current FCC member Mignon Clyburn to serve as acting chairwoman after Genachowski leaves his post.

Wheeler's nomination and Clyburn's appointment won praise from several groups in the tech and telecom sectors.

Wheeler "has the proven ability to transcend a broad range of industry perspectives to reach balanced outcomes," Grant Seiffert, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said in a statement. "Given that one of the most important challenges facing the FCC will be assuring a successful television spectrum incentive auction, Wheeler's breadth of experience makes him especially well-suited to lead the FCC at this time."

Wheeler is a "smart choice" for chairman, said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. "His more than three decades of industry experience and expert policy know-how will be invaluable as we work to advance a 21st century telecommunications landscape guided by the core principles of competition, consumer protection and diversity," she said in a statement.

Still, some raised questions about Wheeler's ties to the telecom industry.

The FCC needs a leader "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 in a statement. "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."

The FCC will have several issues to address, including net neutrality, broadband competition and transparency in election advertising, Aaron said. "He will face challenges from powerful companies to the most basic consumer protections and help determine whether the free and open Internet stays that way," he added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentregulationtelecommunicationBarack ObamaJulius Genachowskifree pressU.S. Federal Communications CommissionAnna EshooMignon ClyburnTelecommunications Industry AssociationGrant SeiffertCraig AaronTom Wheeler

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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