President Barack Obama’s expected nomination of Tom Wheeler, an ex-lobbyist and venture capitalist, on Wednesday to be the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, chairman is attracting mixed reactions from some lawmakers and industry advocates.
Wheeler, 67, will be taking over as head of the nation’s telecommunications industry regulator, just as regulations may need to adapt to new forms of communication.
Wheeler spent decades working in the telecommunications industry on policy and development. He was the president of the National Cable Television Association and wireless industry group Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association before becoming a managing director at venture capital firm Core Capital Partners.
But with all his Beltway experience, some lawmakers and consumer advocates are concerned about Wheeler’s lobbying past.
Here’s what they are saying:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Chairman Of Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation
In March, Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and 36 other Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Obama urging him to seriously consider Jessica Rosenworcel as the FCC’s first female chair.
Reuters reported last month that the senators called Rosenworcel “a superb candidate” who is just as respected by the industry and public interest groups. Rosenworcel, 41, is a former staffer of Rockefeller and is now junior FCC commissioner.
“By choosing a sitting commissioner that has established bipartisan Senate support, you can quickly install a proven leader at this important agency,” the letter read. “That fact is particularly critical with the FCC in the middle of several significant rulemakings and other initiatives. By nominating Commissioner Rosenworcel, you could avoid possible delays created by other nominees.”
Sascha Meinrath, New America Foundation Vice President
Meinrath, who is also director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, issued a statement Tuesday, arguing that the next chairman will need to put public interest at the forefront.
“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,” Meinrath said. “The Open Technology Institute will be a vigilant watchdog at the FCC and will work to ensure that President Obama’s long-stalled communication agenda -- including protecting an open Internet, increasing broadband competition, ensuring affordable and universal access to broadband and promoting media diversity -- is implemented.”
Craig Aaron, Free Press President And CEO
Free Press is a nonprofit devoted to changing media and technology policies, as well as protecting the public interest. Its president, Craig Aaron, said the FCC needs a chairman who will not cave to industry giants and will protect the public interest.
“On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations,” the statement read. “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. ... 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. We hope that he will embrace the FCC's mission and fight for policies that foster genuine competition, promote diversity and amplify local voices.”
Gigi B. Sohn, Public Knowledge President And CEO
Public Knowledge is a Washington, D.C., nonprofit with a mission to keep the Internet open. Its president, Gigi B. Sohn, recently issued a statement supporting Wheeler as FCC chair. “As someone who has known Tom for years, I believe that he will be an independent, proactive chairman who will not allow the FCC to become irrelevant as broadband becomes the dominant mode of communication in this country,” Sohn said. “I also expect that he will carry out the president’s communications policy agenda, which includes strong open Internet requirements, robust broadband competition, affordable broadband access for all Americans, diversity of voices and serious consumer protections, all backed by vigorous agency enforcement."
“Some have expressed concern about Tom’s past history as the head of two industry trade associations. But his past positions should be seen in light of the times and in the context of his other important experiences and engagement with policy. Viewed as a whole, it is most significant that the president has expressed confidence that Tom will effectively carry out the administration's communications policy agenda.”
National Association Of Broadcasters
“NAB welcomes the nomination of Tom Wheeler as chairman of the FCC,” NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said. “He has the experience and temperament to serve the agency with distinction, and we look forward to working with him.”