Obama, Tech

Obama to Nominate Former Lobbyist Tom Wheeler for FCC Chair

| Wed May 1, 2013 9:44 AM EDT

President Obama is expected to nominate Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and longtime Obama supporter, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday.

The next chairman will help steer the FCC on key issues ranging from broadband access, to net neutrality, to whether the FCC should auction off unused network airwaves to raise revenue—an idea Wheeler has previously said he supports

Wheeler's critics say he is too much of an industry advocate, especially given the 12 years he spent heading up the CTIA, a telecommunications trade group whose membership includes nearly every major industry player. Mother Jones' David Corn reported on this when Wheeler's name was first circulated back in March:

[Wheeler] is no consumer advocate, but he has this advantage: He has raised a lot of money as a campaign bundler for Obama. Wheeler is also a member in good standing with the Washington establishment; he sits on the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and is a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center. During 2009, he led the Obama-Biden transition's working group overseeing science, technology, space, and arts agencies.

"He's beloved in the telecom industry," a former Obama administration official says of Wheeler. An industry newsletter notes, "having spent his entire career representing businesses, running businesses and investing in businesses, Wheeler undoubtedly will have a light regulatory touch in all matters. And that's not something you can say about most Democrats."

But Wheeler may well avoid backlash. Earlier this month, a group of former administration officials from the tech and telecom world sent Obama a letter of support praising Wheeler as someone who has "applied his expertise to the challenges of a civil society." And in Time, two industry analysts said Wheeler has picked up "helpful endorsements to cover his left flank."

The nomination also dashes hopes that Obama would pick the first woman to serve as FCC chair; former Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ambassador Jessica Rosenworcel and Obama aide Karen Kornbluh were thought to be potential nominees.