Meet Tom Wheeler: Venture capitalist, lobbyist, historian, and our next FCC Chairman.
Wheeler is currently a managing director of the Washington D.C.-based venture capital group Core Capital Partners, which reportedly manages a fund of approximately $350 million. He served as President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984 and as CEO of mobile carrier trade group Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) from 1992 to 2004. He is also a telecommunications historian, having authored “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War” (Harper Collins, 2008).
To the victor go the spoils. Wheeler helped raise more than $700,000 as a bundler for President Obama’s two presidential election campaigns, which rekindles concerns among some public interest groups about the old “revolving door,” which allows influential individuals to transition between high-paid private sector jobs and high-powered regulatory positions in the government.
Wheeler’s trade experience will be beneficial in overseeing a range of national telecommunications issues, starting with the highly anticipated broadcast spectrum incentive-auctions, which promise to shift spectrum (i.e., the invisible electromagnetic airwaves over which television, radio, and cellphone frequency signals travel) that is currently licensed for television broadcasts for more efficient uses by wireless mobile devices.
As FCC Chairman, Wheeler will be in charge of regulating the members of the trade groups he once led. It remains to be seen whether he will carry the torch of the net neutrality campaign spearheaded by his predecessor Chairman Julian Genachowski and the Obama Administration, or if he will back off in the interest of some of the major corporate members of his former trade industry groups, NCTA and CTIA. Similar conflict-of-interest issues may arise as to other issues such as media ownership consolidation, consumer protection and choice, and antitrust reviews.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will be Acting Chairwoman until Wheeler is inevitably confirmed by the Senate.