Update: Obama Nominates Tom Wheeler for Top FCC Post

WASHINGTON – President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today, as reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journaland D.C.-based publication, The Hill. 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.” His entries include the following observations about spectrum:

In “Chasing Broadcasting’s Future,” from May of 2011, Wheeler responded to an editorial from TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessell on a family’s use of an iPhone to watch TV news during a tornado outbreak.

“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 that spectrum.”

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 News.

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 with policy…

“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.”