As expected, President Obama Wednesday expressed his intention to nominate former lobbyist, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to succeed Julius Genachowski as chairman of the FCC, and has tapped commissioner Mignon Clyburn as interim chair.
Wheeler and Clyburn were both at the White House for the announcement, though neither spoke.
The President said Wheeler knows the communications business inside out, pointing out that he was a member of both the cable and wireless halls of fame. "He is like the Jim Brown of telecom, the Bo Jackson of telecom. For more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of some of the most dramatic changes that we have seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives."
He said Wheeler has helped give consumers "more choices and better products. So, Tom knows this stuff inside and out."
The President called Clyburn an "incredible asset" to the FCC. "Together they have a very important mission," he said, "giving businesses and workers they need to compete in the 21st Century economy."
Wheeler headed the National Cable & Telecommunications Association from 1979 to 1984, took a break to launch some tech start-ups, including "the first company to offer high-speed data to the home and the first digital video delivery service," according to his Core Capital bio. He then moved to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), where he was CEO until 2004. 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 transition team on communications matters.
As a tech advisor to that Obama transition team, Wheeler was instrumental in moving the DTV transition date. As a venture capitalist and former wireless exec, he has supported freeing up more spectrum for wireless, and pushed broadcasters to deliver on mobile DTV if they were serious about being a player in the digital age.
One top communications attorney described Wheeler as one of the most experienced and prepared nominees for chairman ever, a point echoed on both sides of the political spectrum.
The last time there was an interim chair--Michael Copps--he was in the post for about six months. The process of actually installing Wheeler in his post could also take several months.
Genachowski and senior Republican Robert McDowell both announced they were leaving, and as a political matter, Wheeler won't be installed until there is a Republican nominee as well.
Even before the nomination was officially announced, one Senator, veteran media critic Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was raising his red flag about Wheeler's lobbying background.
“I am troubled that President Obama would appoint the former head of two major industry lobbying associations to regulate the industry," he said. "The head of the FCC should be looking out first and foremost for the public interest and may have to stand up to some of our nation's biggest media and telecom companies."
"I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to lead the Federal Communications Commission as interim chairwoman during this transition period," Clyburn said in a statement, "and I thank President Obama for this incredible and historic honor."
She said she would be "committed to continuing the FCC’s strong record of promoting competition, investment, and advancing the public interest." She also wished her successor, Wheeler, a "swift and successful confirmation."
Clyburn is a former South Carolina public service commissioner and daughter of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Her name was among those being talked about in 2008 as a possible successor to then chairman Kevin Martin.