Senate confirms Tom Wheeler as FCC's new chairman

Wheeler unanimously confirmed after Sen. Ted Cruz lifts objection over concerns about Wheeler's views on greater campaign finance regulations.

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the FCC. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Tom Wheeler, a former telecommunications lobbyist, was unanimously confirmed as the new chairman of the FCC late Tuesday, according to The Hill.

The Senate vote was delayed two weeks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who expressed concern Wheeler might support additional funding disclosures for political TV ads. Cruz lifted his objection to the appointment Tuesday after a meeting in which Wheeler assured Cruz that imposing greater campaign finance regulations was "not a priority."

"In our meeting this afternoon, Mr. Wheeler stated that he had heard the unambiguous message that trying to impose the requirements of the Disclose Act, absent congressional action, would imperil the Commission's vital statutory responsibilities, and he explicitly stated that doing so was 'not a priority,'" Cruz said Tuesday. "Based on those representations, I have lifted my hold on his nomination, and I look forward to working with him on the FCC to expand jobs and economic growth."

Wheeler was nominated in May by President Obama to replace Julius Genachowski, who had headed up the agency since 2009. Since Genachowski's departure, Mignon Clyburn has been serving as acting FCC Chairwoman.

Wheeler has been around telecommunications policy circles for years and has served as a lobbyist for the cable industry's trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the wireless industry's trade association, CTIA-The Wireless Association. He spent 12 years as the head of the CTIA. He also has policy experience within the government, working as a member of the FCC's Technological Advisory Council.

While some consumer advocates worried about Wheeler's past as an industry lobbyist, Wheeler had the support of both consumer groups and the wireless and cable industries. His experience in the private sector as a venture capitalist investing in and helping new companies grow was also seen as an advantage by those in the industry and those defending the chance for new competitors to emerge.

"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," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in a statement after the confirmation.

Consumer group Public Knowledge said in a statement that it looks forward to working with Wheeler.

"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," Public Knowledge CEO Gigi Sohn said in a statement. "We also expect that he will carry out the president's communications policy agenda, which includes robust open Internet requirements, vigorous broadband competition, affordable broadband access, diversity of voices, and serious consumer protections, all backed by vigorous agency enforcement."

As FCC's new chairman, Wheeler faces a long list of pending issues at the FCC, including getting more wireless spectrum into the market. He has made it clear that he believes the broadcast TV spectrum could be put to better use and is expected to push aggressively to make the upcoming incentive spectrum auction a success.

His agency is also facing a court battle with Verizon Wireless over the agency's Net neutrality regulations. A loss in this case could gut the FCC's authority.

 

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