After weeks of speculation, it now appears certain that President Obama will nominate Thomas Wheeler to replace Julius Genachowski as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to serve as acting until Wheeler's nomination gets confirmed by the Senate.
In recent weeks, Wheeler's background as a lobbyist many years ago for first the cable industry and then the wireless industry have raised concerns that Wheeler remains more sympathetic to business interests than the public interest. As anyone who has read Public Knowledge's official statement in response to the nomination can see, while we understand those concerns, we agree with many other public interest colleagues who think that Wheeler has an independent perspective and an open mind. Certainly we will have disagreements with the new Chairman (assuming Wheeler is confirmed), but we expect that Wheeler will actively work to promote competition and protect consumers.
Yeah, I know, that sounds like either wishful thinking or Washington insider talk. So allow me to explain my line of reasoning (since, unlike a number of other Wheeler supporters, I actually don't know Wheeler at all). In particular, I want to tackle the current "Tom Wheeler would have approved the AT&T/T-Mo merger in 2011." It's easy to say, "oh, all that lobbying for the cable and wireless industry was long ago when they were scrappy upstarts. Why, that was so long ago that the cable industry were battling the broadcasters and the wireless industry were battling the telcos (as opposed to these days when the cable industry battles the telcos and the wireless industry battles the broadcasters)!" But if Wheeler was actually a supporter of AT&T/T-Mobile, then it would seem to prove he still has sympathies to his old industry incumbent comrades.
I confess I don't see the same enthusiasm for a combined AT&T/T-Mobile that some have seen. Mind you, perhaps I am unduly charmed by Wheeler's embrace of unlicensed spectrum, WiFi and federal spectrum sharing back in October 2011 – well before his supposed cable masters embraced it and while his supposed wireless masters at AT&T and Verizon still rejected this as a "distraction" from clearing and auctioning. Or perhaps as a fellow who writes long-winded blogs on complex telecom policy I'm unduly sympathetic to complaints that one's blog posts get misinterpreted. But in any event, it’s worth looking at what Wheeler actually said.
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