According to industry sources, the White House is expected to nominate, or at least express its intention to nominate, Tom Wheeler to become the next FCC chairman as early as this week. As Multichannel News has reported, Wheeler is being vetted by the White House for the post.
If the White House nominates him this week, it will be because he has passed his FBI check, according to sources familiar with the process. Otherwise the President may simply have indicated his intention to nominate--once that check is done.
That doesn't mean Wheeler will be taking over immediately, or even necessarily soon. The President must still come up with a Republican nominee to pair with Wheeler, then Senate Commerce will have to hold a hearing on the nominations.
In the meantime, which could be from a couple months to a half a year, the interim chair is expected to be Mignon Clyburn.
Cable operators will be getting a former advocate for their business atop the agency, as will wireless carriers.
Broadcasters likely won't be doing cartwheels over the choice suggested one veteran communications attorney, given that the new chairman will be a former wireless lobbyist who has taken them to task for their initial pushback on the spectrum auctions and for not having moved more swiftly on mobile DTV. But he has also indicated that it might be time to loosen media ownership rules.
Public-interest groups were already beginning to weigh in on Wheeler.
"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
Free Press president Craig Aaron. "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."
Wheeler ran both the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and CTIA: The Wireless Association. He is currently a partner at venture capital firm Core Capital Partners. He took a leave of absence from that post back in 2008 to help get Barack Obama elected, then advised the candidate and President on communications matters.
Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said she believes Wheeler will be "an independent, proactive chairman who will not allow the FCC to become irrelevant as broadband becomes the dominant mode of communications in this country."
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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