Report: Obama Taps Wireless Lobbyist To Head FCC

President Barack Obama plans to name longtime industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler to helm the Federal Communications Commission, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and Politico.

Wheeler previously served as a lobbyist for the National Cable Television Assn. and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn. Given his close ties to the cable and wireless industries -- the very industries regulated by the FCC -- it's not surprising that some consumer advocates are wary of 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. On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations,” Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement.



But Aaron added that Wheeler “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.”

Of course, people who come into power often surprise observers. Free Press itself was enthusiastic about outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski back in 2009, when he was named FCC head. But the FCC's policies of the last four years ended up disappointing many consumer advocates.

For instance, Free Press wasn't happy when the FCC didn't impose stronger net neutrality rules on wireless companies. The regulations prohibit all broadband carriers -- wireline and wireless -- from blocking or degrading traffic, but only ban wireline providers from engaging in “unreasonable discrimination.”

Two years ago, the advocacy group went so far as to sue the FCC for adopting different standards for wireline and wireless providers. (Free Press later dropped the lawsuit.)

In any event, not all broadband advocates expressed concern about Wheeler. Gigi Sohn, president and CEO of Public Knowledge, says in a statement that she believes Wheeler “will be an independent, proactive chairman.”

Sohn adds: “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.”

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