Next FCC chairman could be anti-broadcast advocate

It looks like President Obama and his administration wants to continue promoting its broadband initiative by nominating a technology investor and former head of two major non-broadcast trade associations as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Tom Wheeler, a managing director of Core Capital Partners as well as a major fundraiser ($500,000) for President Obama's two political campaigns, will be officially announced soon.

In 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal, Wheeler ran Obama's transition effort for the science, technology, space and arts agencies. He also lobbied for the cable industry from 1979 to 1984 when he was president of the National Cable Television Association, and then represented wireless phone companies as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

Wheeler’s approval is not a sure thing, as some in Congress were lobbying for current commissioner Jessica Rosenwircel to head the FCC. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman and 36 other members of Congress wrote a letter to President Obama stating that Rosenwircel “understands and respects the relationship between the FCC and Congress.”

The broadcast industry can't be happy about this (although the NAB did release a stement of its own, claiming that Wheeler "has the experience and temperament to serve the agency with distinction, and we look forward to working with him"), and apparently neither are several consumer advocacy groups.

"The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader — someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free press, in a statement. "On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations. But he now has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong, clean up the mess left by his predecessor, and be the public servant we so badly need at the FCC.

“We hope that [Wheeler] will embrace the FCC's mission and fight for policies that foster genuine competition, promote diversity and amplify local voices,” Free Press added. “There is a much to be done — and the honeymoon will be short — but we look forward to working with Mr. Wheeler and the other commissioners at the FCC to engage the public and make policies that truly benefit all Americans.”

Another consumer group, Public Knowledge, released its own statement, proclaiming that its CEO Gigi Sohn “will not allow the FCC to become irrelevant as broadband becomes the dominant mode of communication in this country.”

Wheeler, if he is approved by Congress, will have to deal with several significant challenges facing the FCC, including Net Neutrality, broadband expansion and media diversity, to name a few. He will also oversee the auction of broadcast spectrum in June 2014.

Current FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn will serve as acting FCC chair until Wheeler is confirmed.