Updated at 2:50 ET
As expected, President Obama on Wednesday expressed his intention to nominate
former lobbyist, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to succeed
Julius Genachowski as chairman of the FCC, and has tapped commissioner Mignon
Clyburn as interim chair, a move that would make her the first woman to lead the agency.
Wheeler and Clyburn were both at the White House for the
announcement, though neither spoke.
The president said Wheeler knows the communications business
"inside and out," pointing out that he was a member of both the cable
and wireless halls of fame. "He is like the Jim Brown of telecom, the Bo
Jackson of telecom. For more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of
some of the most dramatic changes that we have seen in the way we communicate
and how we live our lives."
He said Wheeler has helped give consumers "more choices
and better products. So, Tom knows this stuff inside and out."
The president called Clyburn an "incredible asset"
to the FCC. "Together, they have a very important mission," he said,
"giving businesses and workers they need to compete in the 21st century
Wheeler headed the National Cable and Telecommunications
Association from 1979 to 1984, took a break to launch some tech start-ups, including
"the first company to offer high-speed data to the home and the first
digital video delivery service," according to his Core Capital bio. He
then moved to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA),
where he was CEO until 2004. He is currently a partner at venture capital firm
Core Capital Partners. He took a leave of absence from that post back in 2008
to help get Obama elected, then advised the transition team on communications
As a tech adviser to that Obama transition team, Wheeler was
instrumental in moving the DTV transition date. As a venture capitalist and
former wireless exec, he has supported freeing up more spectrum for wireless,
and pushed broadcasters to deliver on mobile DTV if they were serious about
being a player in the digital age.
One top communications attorney described Wheeler as one of
the most experienced and prepared nominees for chairman ever, a point echoed on
both sides of the political spectrum.
Last time there was an interim chair -- Michael Copps -- he
was in the post for about six months. The process of actually installing
Wheeler in his post could also take several months.
Genachowski and senior Republican Robert McDowell both
announced they were leaving, and as a political matter, Wheeler won't be
installed until there is a Republican nominee as well.
Even before the nomination was officially announced, one
senator, veteran media critic Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was raising his red flag
about Wheeler's lobbying background. "I am troubled that President Obama
would appoint the former head of two major industry lobbying associations to
regulate the industry," he said. "The head of the FCC should be
looking out first and foremost for the public interest and may have to stand up
to some of our nation's biggest media and telecom companies."
"I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to lead the
Federal Communications Commission as interim chairwoman during this transition
period," Clyburn said in a statement, "and I thank President Obama
for this incredible and historic honor."
She said she would be "committed to continuing the
FCC's strong record of promoting competition, investment and advancing the
public interest." She also wished her successor, Wheeler, a "swift
and successful confirmation."
Clyburn is a former South Carolina public
service commissioner and daughter of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Her name was
among those being talked about in 2008 as a
possible successor to then chairman Kevin Martin.