News Column

Obama to Nominate Thomas Wheeler to Head FCC

May 1, 2013
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President Obama plans to nominate venture capitalist Thomas Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission, White House officials said.

Wheeler, managing director at Core Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm based in Washington, D.C., also has worked at several start-up companies and has been a top lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries.

Obama will make the nomination public today, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the president's formal announcement.

If the Senate confirms the nomination, Wheeler would replace Julius Genachowski, a law school classmate of Obama's who has headed the agency since June 2009. He announced in March that he would step down.

Mignon Clyburn, an FCC commissioner and a Democrat, will be acting chair of the FCC pending Wheeler's confirmation.

Wheeler, 67, co-founded online news service SmartBrief. From 1979 to 1984, he served as president of the National Cable Television Association. His resume also includes a stint as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

"He's a guy with broad experience," said Gigi Sohn, CEO of Public Knowledge, a technology consumer advocacy organization.

"He's proven to be very independent-minded. So I'm hopeful. He's also at a time in life where he's not looking for the next job. (That) will add to his independence."

Wheeler steps in at a time of rapid change in the telecom world, where many rules were formulated prior to current wireless and Internet technologies.

The wireless industry is consolidating as carriers demand more airwaves.

Universal Internet access -- particularly for rural Americans -- remains an issue for the agency.

Sohn says deflecting industry attempts to limit the FCC's regulatory reach over emerging new technologies will be a top priority for Wheeler.

"Will the agency have any relevancy in protection of consumers when it comes to (modern) communications?" she says.

Overseeing the transition of telephone services from switched to Internet-based networks also is a pressing concern, says Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

"The historic nature of this transition stresses every fiber of communication policy. The new FCC chairman will have to focus his considerable talents on this challenge."




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Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013


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