As expected, President Barack Obama has officially nominated former wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Wheeler, who served on the Obama-Biden transition team, is known for his work with the CTIA, a mobile industry group that he headed from 1992 to 2004. He has also spent time as the head of the National Cable Television Association. Wheeler has been widely floated as a potential replacement for Julius Genachowski, the former FCC head who stepped down in March.
Obama has also named an acting chair to serve until Congress either confirms or rejects Wheeler. Mignon Clyburn, who will fill this gap, has been a member of the FCC since 2009. Before joining, she spent over a decade with South Carolina’s Public Service Commission, which oversees the state’s telecom regulations. Unlike Wheeler, a top-tier lobbyist who has spent much of his career in the cable and wireless industries, Clyburn has worked steadily on the regulatory side. Consumer protection group Public Knowledge has said it is “delighted” with Clyburn’s selection, calling her a “passionate voice for the underserved and underrepresented” and urging her to push for changes during her time as interim chair.
In a statement yesterday, Public Knowledge was more circumspect about Wheeler himself, though it offered cautious praise. “I have no doubt that we will disagree with Tom at times. But I also have no doubt that Tom will have an open door and an open mind,” wrote President Gigi Sohn. Reactions from other quarters have been more enthusiastic.AT&T has called Wheeler an “inspired pick,” saying that his “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.” Wheeler previously praised AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile, before the merger was blocked by the FCC — a sign of where he might differ from previous leaders.