The Senate confirmed former telecom lobbyist Tom Wheeler to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. It also confirmed Mike O'Rielly to fill the vacant GOP commissioner slot. Both were unanimously confirmed in a voice vote early Tuesday evening, just hours after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) lifted the procedural hold he put on the vote.
As soon as both are sworn in (probably by the end of this week or early next), the agency will finally be back up to its full strength of five commissioners. It's likely that the next FCC meeting, scheduled for Nov. 14, will be Wheeler's first, ending Mignon Clyburn's five-month tenure as acting chair. (Clyburn will continue to serve as a commissioner.)
Wheeler, who was most recently a venture capitalist, comes to the FCC with heavy tech chops (Obama called him the "Bo Jackson of Telecom"), having served as lobbyist for both the cable and wireless industries. He's also a strong Obama loyalist, raising as much as $500,000 for Obama's re-election campaign and serving on the White House transition team.
Wheeler's background seems tailor-made for perhaps the biggest item on the FCC's agenda: organizing and implementing the world's largest auction of wireless spectrum voluntarily relinquished by TV broadcasters. Originally planned for 2014, the recent government shutdown could push the schedule into 2015.
A historian (with an expertise in the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln), Wheeler is well aware of what's facing him at the FCC. Like his predecessor, he is focused on the radical transformation of communications technology. "What excites me about this new responsibility is how we are at a hinge moment of history; the Internet is the greatest communications revolution in the last 150 years. We must all dedicate ourselves to encouraging its growth, expanding what it enables, and assuring its users' rights are respected," he said in a statement responding to the news of his confirmation.
"Tom Wheeler will be a strong advocate for consumers and the public interest at a time when the FCC is facing decisions that will shape the future of our nation's telephone network and the wireless, broadband, and video industries," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the commerce committee said in a statement.