Senate Confirms Lobbyist Tom Wheeler as New FCC Chairman

Tom Wheeler, a former cable and wireless phone lobbyist, was unanimously confirmed as the new chairman of the FCC late yesterday. Senate aide Mike O’Rielly was also confirmed for the vacant Republican seat on the commission. The confirmations came after Senator Ted Cruz released his hold on Wheeler’s confirmation vote. Wheeler will succeed fellow Democrat Mignon Clyburn, who has been serving as acting chair since earlier this year when Julius Genachowski stepped down.

“I am humbled by the Senate’s confirmation and I look forward to taking the oath of office in the coming days,” said Wheeler. “I am deeply grateful to President Obama for his confidence in nominating me for this position.”

“What excites me about this new responsibility is how we are at a hinge moment of history; the Internet is the greatest communications revolution in the last 150 years,” he added. “We must all dedicate ourselves to encouraging its growth, expanding what it enables, and assuring its users’ rights are respected.”

Cruz (R-Texas) announced yesterday that he had originally put a hold on the confirmation vote based on concerns that Wheeler might introduce new disclosure requirements on political TV ads without Congress’ approval. But Cruz lifted the hold following a meeting with Wheeler in the afternoon.

“Wheeler will face a host of pressing issues at the FCC, first and foremost being a plan to set up auctions of broadcast spectrum to free up the airwaves for wireless use,” reports Variety. “The details of how the auctions will be structured are incredibly complex, and broadcasters have warned that the agency not to rush into the process while large wireless companies have pressed for few restrictions on who can participate.”

Also pending is a revision of the FCC’s media ownership rules, which Genachowski put on hold in order to study the potential impact of rule changes on minorities and women.

“Wheeler also may be forced to grapple with what to do about the FCC’s net neutrality rules if a D.C. appellate court overturns them. Verizon challenged the commission’s rules, passed in 2010, and a decision is pending after oral arguments were held in September,” notes Variety. “Another issue will be whether to rewrite the commission’s approach ot complaints of indecency on broadcast TV.”

Wheeler served as a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and CTIA — The Wireless Association. He was president of NCTA from 1979 to 1984, and spent 12 years as the head of CTIA. He has policy experience from working as a member of the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council. Most recently, he was managing director at venture capital firm Core Capital Partners.

“While some consumer advocates worried about Wheeler’s past as an industry lobbyist, Wheeler had the support of both consumer groups and the wireless and cable industries,” according to CNET. “His experience in the private sector as a venture capitalist investing in and helping new companies grow was also seen as an advantage by those in the industry and those defending the chance for new competitors to emerge.”

“Chairman Wheeler takes the helm of the FCC at a critical time where action is required to reallocate spectrum for wireless broadband and other services,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. “Our nation needs strong FCC leadership to make this goal a reality. CEA and its more than 2,000 member technology companies look forward to working with Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner O’Rielly and the full FCC on spectrum reallocation and other issues vital to innovation and our nation.”