President Barack Obama appointed former lobbyist Tom Wheeler to the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission today. He'll replace Julius Genachowski.
Wheeler, 67, is currently a venture capitalist, having led the National Cable Television Association as its president from 1979 to 1984, and the CTIA, a wireless communications trade association, from 1992 to 2003.
In 2008, Wheeler campaigned for the president in Iowa, knocking on doors and participating in GOTV operations. He raised over $500,000 for Obama’s reelection in 2012.
Some are excited by Wheeler’s experience with wireless communications, illustrated by his personal blog and career. Yet Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—sharing the views of consumer groups—worries about Wheeler's ties to industry, concerned that he will not sufficiently defend the public interest against large broadband companies.
Wheeler’s support of AT&T Inc.’s acquisition of T-Mobile USA seemingly supports these concerns. Writing in 2011, he advocated for the merger as a “trigger” for “government regulation that could ultimately spread to all wireless carriers."
Hence, if AT&T wins the antitrust suit allowing it to merge with T-Mobile, it would permit the FCC to “determine appropriate public interest protections.” Presumably, this would allow the Commission to move beyond its current jurisdiction of outdated phone and cable technology, and into regulating broadband and wireless internet.
Based on National Journal’s quotations, Wheeler’s concern mainly regards modernizing the Commission’s jurisdiction to cover mobile and wireless broadband. As pertaining to “net neutrality,” a regulation that would prohibit broadband companies from giving preferential access to certain content providers, the nominee argued that large telecommunication companies should “maximize [net neutrality’s] positive effects – from appropriate network management, to flexible pricing and even new spectrum…”
Though he campaigned for the president, Wheeling doesn’t appear as a political pick; with his telecommunications experience, blogging interest, and center-left policy prescriptions, he may have a relatively simple trip through the Senate.