President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission today, as reported yesterday by The
Wall Street Journal
and D.C.-based publication, The
. The president also nominated sitting commissioner Mignon Clyburn acting
chair until Wheeler is confirmed by the Senate.
“Tom is the only member of the cable television and wireless
industry hall of fame, so he’s like the Jim Brown or Bo Jackson of telecom,”
Obama said of Wheeler, after giving profuse props for his fellow Harvard
alumni, Julius Genachowski.
Genachowski announced that he would step down in
late March. The president lauded him for launching the National Broadband Plan.
Wheeler is expected to manage that legacy. He was most recently a managing director of Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm
in downtown Washington. He served on the president’s transition team as a tech
policy advisor, and previously was head of CTIA – The Wireless Association; and
the National Cable Television Association, from 1979 to 1984. He is also a
former board member of the Public Broadcasting Service and an Ohio State Buckeye.
Wheeler is also a prolific blogger, having written extensively since 2007 under
the title “Mobile Musings
entries include the following observations about spectrum:
In “Chasing Broadcasting’s Future,” from May of 2011, Wheeler responded to an
editorial from TVNewsCheck’s
Jessell on a family’s use of an iPhone to watch TV news during a tornado
“Amazingly, of course, the people huddled in the
bathtub weren’t benefiting from the use of the broadcast spectrum; they were
receiving it in a much less efficient manner over the wireless network,” he
wrote. “Instead of this important common information being broadcast to
multiple mobile devices at once it was instead streamed individually to each
viewer on a traditional one-to-one wireless channel. It is precisely this kind
of one-to-one rather than one-to-many delivery of video content that is
exacerbating the spectrum shortage in this country….
“Without a doubt, broadcasting is the most efficient means of delivering common
content to a large audience. Yet television broadcasters are not stepping up to
take advantage of their spectrum to provide mobile services. Meanwhile mobile
carriers such as Verizon Wireless are embracing broadcast concepts. The CTO of
that mobile operator recently announced that their new high-speed,
high-capacity LTE network would include a one-to-many broadcast component.”
Wheeler goes on to say that while Verizon Wireless was investing “billions” in
LTE, most broadcasters hadn’t invested the $100,000 necessary to transmit
mobile DTV while railing against the spectrum auction proposal.
“I’ve been mystified why broadcasters have declared jihad against the voluntary
spectrum auction,” he wrote. “Getting big dollars for an asset for which you
paid nothing while still being able to run your traditional business over cable
(the vast majority of its reach anyway) and maintain a broadcast signal at
another point on the dial seems a pretty good business proposition—unless you
really are serious about providing new and innovative services and need all
In “Updating Spectrum Policy” from October of 2011, Wheeler suggested
overhauling the basic foundation of licensing—prevention of interference.
“It is time to abandon the concept of perfection in spectrum allocation. The
rules for 21st century spectrum allocation need to evolve from the avoidance of
interference to interference tolerance….
“Such a reanalysis of spectrum policy should begin with government spectrum. By
all means continue with the voluntary incentive auction of broadcast spectrum
(if Congress will ever get on with it), but at the same time begin to innovate
on government spectrum. The government as the single largest user of spectrum;
there is ample opportunity for experimentation and innovation.”
Wheeler’s nomination would come as no surprise. He emerged as the favorite in
recent weeks, including in an April 22 report
from John Eggerton writing for Multichannel
Wheeler supporters are many, according to Deadline.com
including former Obama advisor Susan Crawford, who wrote a book critical of
Comcast, and Decker Anstrom, a former member of the Comcast board.
Long-time D.C. lobbyist Gigi B. Sohn today set the tone for Public Knowledge,
the public-interest lobby she heads.
“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…
“Some have expressed concern about Tom’s past history as the head of two
industry trade associations. But his past positions should be seen in light of
the times and in the context of his other important experiences and engagement
“I have no doubt that we will disagree with Tom at times. But I also have no
doubt that Tom will have an open door and an open mind, and that ultimately his
decisions will be based on what he genuinely believes is best for the public
interest, not any particular industry. We look forward to Tom’s swift
confirmation, and to working with him on the important issues that will shape
our digital future.”