Report: Former CTIA chief Wheeler front-runner for top FCC post

Tom Wheeler, a former CTIA president who is now a venture capitalist and a larger donor to President Obama, is a lead choice to succeed Julius Genachowski as the chairman of the FCC, according to a TIME report. 

Tom Wheeler FCC CTIA


The report, which cited unnamed "top telecom analysts and D.C. policy sources," said Wheeler is among the top candidates for the job. Wheeler was president of the CTIA from 1992 to 2004 before joining D.C.-based venture capital firm Core Capital Partners as managing director in 2005. Wheeler, who raised almost $250,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election effort, is seen as someone with the technology and policy chops to do the job. However, as a former lobbyist, he has also taken flak from public interest groups and some lawmakers.

As TIME notes, Wheeler enjoyed a recent boost from several prominent former Obama administration officials, who wrote a letter to the president supporting Wheeler. "Tom has had an impressive career in the telecommunications and high-tech field that makes him eminently qualified for this position," the officials wrote. "He understands the importance of reclaiming the pro-competition, pro-innovation, pro-growth regulatory ideal." 

Wheeler declined to comment, according to TIME.

"That the White House has yet to nominate a replacement in the aftermath of Genachowski's resignation announcement and early Wheeler opposition, could create the impression Obama is having second thoughts about appointing an individual who was a prominent lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries in the past," Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva recently wrote. "We're told that is not necessarily the case and that the absence to date of an Obama FCC chairman nomination is more likely due to follow-up vetting of Wheeler by the FBI."

In reading the tea leaves of the recent letter in support of Wheeler, Silva noted: "By signing onto the pro-Wheeler letter, Andrew Schwartzman, former president of the progressive Media Access Project, acts as counterbalance of sorts to opposition by some left-leaning public interest groups. The letter backing Wheeler also effectively serves to remove from contention an outside FCC chairman candidate who likely would have attracted significant political (mostly Republican) and industry opposition."

"After picking up some helpful endorsements to cover his left flank, former wireless and cable industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler appears to still have the inside track on becoming FCC chairman, in our opinion," Stifel Nicolaus telecom analysts Christopher King and David Kaut wrote in a recent research report. "We believe he would be a capable chairman who is receptive to many wireless and cable policy arguments, but would feel pressure from rivals and critics of those sectors, including wireline telcos and broadcasters to demonstrate independence."

However, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel received her own letter of support last month from 37 senators. However, picking Rosenworcel has its own complications, since Obama would be passing over Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is more senor on the panel.

"Instead of improving Rosenworcel's chances for FCC chairman, the letter, choreographed by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), may have worsened her prospects because of concern that Rosenworcel (a former senior telecom legislative advisor to Rockefeller's panel) could at a minimum have divided loyalties between Congress and the president," Silva wrote.

For more:
- see this TIME article
- see this Broadband Breakfast article

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