Washington

Wheeler to Be FCC's Big Wheel

Obama's choice for chairman is expected to keep the pedal on broadband deployment and freeing up spectrum 5/06/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Wheeler: Dealer

Tom Wheeler, the White House pick for FCC chairman, may have been a cable and wireless phone lobbyist, but he also has a number of broadcast connections.

Wheeler was cofounder of SmartBrief, the online newsletter company that counts the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) among its clients. He is also a one-time board member of the Public Broadcasting Service.

Wheeler’s wife, Carol, is the former VP of government affairs for the NAB as well as a consultant to America’s Public Television Stations, which advocates for noncommercial stations in Washington, much as the NAB does for commercial stations.

As a tech advisor to the Obama administration in its early days, Wheeler was also instrumental in giving broadcasters an extra four months to make the DTV transition deadline, by moving the date from February to June 2009. —JE

President Obama made it official last week:
Tom Wheeler is his pick for Federal Communications
Commission chairman.

Wheeler, currently a partner in venture capital firm
Core Capital Partners, is a former lobbyist for both the
cable and wireless industries, with a particular focus in
recent years on wireless.

That’s not the resume normally associated with a
Democratic pick for FCC chairman. Plus, the White
House was under pressure to name a woman, or a minority,
to the post, and it has made no secret of its
disdain for lobbyists in government.

But Wheeler was a top advisor to President Obama
during his transition process back in 2008-09, and he
helped raise money from the tech sector while taking
a break from putting money into the tech sector as a
venture capitalist.

Wheeler also continues the trend of an executive
with real-world business experience in the top post
at the FCC. Outgoing FCC chief Julius Genachowski
proved to be a moderate whose push for broadband
build-out resulted in a number of moves meant to
make it easier for broadband providers to do business.

Wheeler can be expected to continue that trend.

In announcing the nomination, the president said
Wheeler knows the industry “inside and out” and, tapping
an NFL-superstar metaphor, likened him to a Jim
Brown or Bo Jackson of telecom. Obama also called
Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who was
named interim chairman, an “incredible asset.”

Clyburn could take the opportunity to move on
loosening foreign ownership rules, which could boost
media diversity. Although the Women’s Media Center
last week voiced their concerns about the Wheeler
choice and there never having been a female chair,
Clyburn will be the first woman to hold the post, even
if it is only for a few months.

Typically Big Agenda

It will likely be Wheeler’s FCC that implements
spectrum auctions, finally weighs in on media ownership,
oversees the transition to IP delivery and decides
what regulations to apply, or not to apply, to IPdelivered
voice
and video.

Wheeler is coming
in to the job
with mixed reaction
from public
interest groups,
given his experience
advocating for
big cable and wireless
companies.
But Wheeler fits
the White House
bill of mixing tech
smarts with business
acumen. His
Core Capital bio
credits him with
starting “the first
company to offer
high-speed data to
the home and the
first digital video
delivery service.”

Wheeler has had plenty to say about the communications
business during his tenure at Core Capital,
weighing in periodically on his blog. The blog postings
stopped at the end of last year, about the same time
Wheeler’s name started surfacing as a candidate to replace
Genachowski.

National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon
Smith welcomed Wheeler’s appointment. “He has
the experience and temperament to serve the agency
with distinction, and we look forward to working with
him,” Smith said in a statement.

But broadcasters may have a bone or two to pick
with Wheeler. In his blog (broadcastingcable/com/May6), he has pushed broadcasters to get moving with
mobile DTV if they want to establish their value in the
digital world. Back in 2009, Wheeler opined in the
blog about what he called broadcasters’ “jihad” against
spectrum auctions.

But Wheeler has also said that broadcasting is “without
a doubt…the most efficient means of delivering
common content to a large audience,” and something
that is just as important in a digital world as it was in
an analog one.

Broadcasters have recently been trying to deliver on
that mobile DTV promise, announcing the ramp-up of
the service in new markets and making it one of the
focal points of the recent NAB convention in Las Vegas.

Wheeler, in his free-wheeling Core Capital blog, has
sided with those who oppose the Stop Online Privacy
Act, pushed broadcasters to either put up their spectrum
for auction or make a business out of mobile
DTV and has talked up a free and open Internet—
all positions that should endear him to media public
interest groups.

All that said, it could be several months before
Wheeler is actually installed in the job. “Congress isn’t
around in the summer a lot of the time,” suggested a
former FCC official. “Some people think it will be fall
before he gets in.” Four years ago, it took three months
between Genachowski’s appointment and when he was
actually installed.

Since Republican FCC commissioner Robert McDowell
is also leaving the agency, a Republican will also have
to be picked to pair with Wheeler during the consideration
process. That nominee will have to be vetted—
FBI background check and all.

Pairing the nominees is not required, but Republicans
are unlikely to give up the leverage of approving
Wheeler without having their own choice in hand.
Michael O’Reilly, a top staffer with Sen. John Cornyn
(R-Tex.), continues to be the name most often raised
for McDowell’s seat, but a Republican source said that
it is not yet a done deal.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

Wheeler: Dealer

Tom Wheeler, the White House pick for FCC chairman, may have been a cable and wireless phone lobbyist, but he also has a number of broadcast connections.

Wheeler was cofounder of SmartBrief, the online newsletter company that counts the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) among its clients. He is also a one-time board member of the Public Broadcasting Service.

Wheeler’s wife, Carol, is the former VP of government affairs for the NAB as well as a consultant to America’s Public Television Stations, which advocates for noncommercial stations in Washington, much as the NAB does for commercial stations.

As a tech advisor to the Obama administration in its early days, Wheeler was also instrumental in giving broadcasters an extra four months to make the DTV transition deadline, by moving the date from February to June 2009. —JE

 

Alert to All Users of the Disqus commenting system:
Because of a recent global security issue, the Disqus website recommends that all users change their Disqus passwords. Here's a URL about the issue:
http://engineering.disqus.com/2014/04/10/heartbleed.html

 

April
May