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Lobbyists React to Wheeler Reports

News updates indicate White House ready to nominate venture capitalist, former telecom executive as next FCC chairman

Reports that the White House intends to nominate Tom Wheeler as the next FCC chairman is generating reaction.

Wheeler, a telecom executive and a key Obama campaigner, has been on the short list to succeed Julius Genachowski for months, we’ve reported. Wheeler has strong connections to the communications industry. He previously ran the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and was president of the CTIA: The Wireless Association.

Now, Wheeler’s a partner with venture capital firm Core Capital Partners, which he joined in 2005.

Wheeler is an experienced Washington hand, serving on the boards of PBS, the Foundation of the National Archives and being a trustee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In addition President Obama appointed him to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. 

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said Wheeler “has the experience and temperament to serve the agency with distinction, and we look forward to working with him.”

An activist group not always on the same side as the NAB, Public Knowledge, was of the same mind. President and CEO Gigi Sohn said, “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.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the ranking Democrat after Genachowski, is expected to be named interim chairman; that would be the first time a woman has led the commission.

She may be in this role for several months, depending on how long it takes for Wheeler, and whomever the Republican nominee would be, to receive Senate confirmation.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council noted that just last week, MMTC and 49 other organizations, including the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Alliance for Women in Media, wrote to the President to encourage him to nominate FCC commissioners that would prioritize minority and women’s issues. The letter cited the disproportionately low representation of women and minorities in media and telecom ownership, procurement, employment, and entrepreneurship in industries overseen by the commission.

MMTC says Clyburn has supported minority and women’s issues since becoming a commissioner in 2009. Wheeler, too, has a reputation for promoting diversity and innovation, according to MMTC, which also says both bring years of practical business experience to their roles as well.

Several news accounts state that Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project and Susan Crawford, who had been mentioned earlier as a potential FCC chair nominee, signed a letter supporting Wheeler. The letter included a number of activist groups.

But not everyone is enthused.

Politico cited one critical activist who did not sign the letter, Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. It quoted him as saying, “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.”

Also, as the former head of two trade associations, Wheeler “does not appear to be” someone who can stand up to industry, says Free Press President Craig Aaron, a trait the public needs in an FCC chairman.