Rockefeller Finally Weighs In on Wheeler FCC Nom

Statement from Commerce Committee chair highly anticipated

Maybe because everyone in Washington already spent months chewing over Tom Wheeler's qualifications as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission—or maybe it was because Congress was on a brief recess—Congressional reaction to the Wheeler's official nomination was sparse. But hotly anticipated was a statement from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who campaigned heavily for his former staffer and FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel by rounding up 36 other senators to sign a letter to President Obama the day Julius Genachowski announced he would be leaving.

Rockefeller's statement finally came this afternoon, two days after President Obama nominated his former ally and fundraiser to head the agency, and two days after the usual barrage of statements from public interest groups, associations, and companies regulated by the FCC.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)

The statement from the chairman of the Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FCC, was gracious, but brief.

"I respect President Obama's decision to nominate Tom Wheeler as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He has a long and diverse career in both communications policy and business," said Rockefeller, who then listed his priorities for the FCC in the next part: "In the next two years, the FCC will work toward promoting universal access to broadband, expanding the E-Rate program, and making sure incentive auctions generate funds to create a communications network for our first responders. I look forward to meeting soon with Mr. Wheeler and discussing the challenges facing the commission," Rockefeller said.

Next step for Wheeler will be to appear before the Commerce Committee, where Rockefeller is sure to bring up the very issues he listed in his statement.

However, it could be a while before that hearing happens; Rockefeller is unlikely to schedule it until Wheeler's nomination is paired with the GOP nominee to fill the fifth vacant FCC commissioner seat.

On the House side, Commerce Committee chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and communications and technology subcommittee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) offered their congrats, but also pushed for more transparent decision-making at the agency as proposed in FCC reform bills championed by Walden.

"We are concerned by Mr. Wheeler's views on merger conditions that can be misused to affect whole industries, not just those seeking merger approval," Upton and Walden said. "The FCC should use its lawful rule-making authority as a public and transparent process if it wants to change industry-wide behavior and stop using closed door, strong-arm merger conditions."

Only one lawmaker in Congress raised the issue of Wheeler's past as head of both the cable and wireless lobbies. "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," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also despises media consolidation.

He had some choice words for Wheeler, who will probably inherit the agency's incomplete rule-making on the media ownership rules. "Before the Senate votes on Mr. Wheeler's confirmation, the American people deserve to know where he stands on one of the most important issues facing our nation: the fact that more and more of our media are owned and controlled by fewer and fewer multi-national media conglomerates. Will Mr. Wheeler support that dangerous trend or will he oppose it?" Sanders asked.