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Obama Formally Taps Tom Wheeler as FCC Chairman

Despite Wheeler’s ties to industry associations, he is expected to reinforce the FCC’s commitment to net neutrality, which the president has strongly supported

President Obama on Wednesday formally tapped Tom Wheeler, managing director of Core Capital Partners, as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC Commissioner  Mignon L. Clyburn will serve as interim chairman until Wheeler gets Senate confirmation. Clyburn's appointment as interim FCC chairman makes her the first woman to head the FCC.

Wheeler, a former executive of two major industry association — first the National Cable and Television Association and later the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association — will replace departing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured below left).

Also read: Obama Expected to Name Tom Wheeler as FCC Chairman

President Obama, announcing the appointment at a White House event, cited Wheeler's long history in the telecommunications industry.

"Tom knows his stuff inside and out," said the president. He said Wheeler had been at the very forefront of technology. 

Wheeler, who is co-founder of the SmartBrief, a targeted news service about the media industry, had been expected to succeed Genachowski.

Wheeler had been active in Obama’s first campaign, and after Obama was elected in 2008, he served on the Obama transition team.

Despite Wheeler’s ties to industry associations, he is expected to reinforce the FCC’s commitment to net neutrality, which the president has strongly supported.

But some public-interest groups on Tuesday questioned whether Wheeler might be less of a consumer advocate on other issues — whether it be mergers, of media ownership.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Tom personally and professionally for almost 20 years," Genachowski said in a statement. "At this exciting time in this important sector, I can attest to Tom’s commitment to harness the power of communications technology to improve people’s lives, to drive our global competitiveness, and to advance the public interest. The FCC’s role has never been more essential, and with Tom’s deep policy expertise and his first-hand experience as a technology investor, he is a superb choice to advance the FCC’s mission of promoting innovation, investment, competition, and consumer protection."

Clyburn in a statement thanked the president for her appointment. “I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to lead the Federal Communications Commission as interim chairwoman during this transition period, and I thank President Obama for this incredible and historic honor,” she said. 

Said consumer advocate group Public Knowledge of the Clyburn appointment: "We are delighted that Commissioner Clyburn has been appointed acting Chair of the FCC. During her time at the agency, she has been a passionate voice for the underserved and underrepresented.

"Commissioner Clyburn has supported the cause of an open Internet,  broadband for all Americans, robust competition and strong consumer protection. She has taken up matters, like prison phone justice, that  don't make headlines, but make our society more just. We urge acting Chair Clyburn to be more than a mere placeholder for the permanent Chair. She should take action to implement  President Obama's agenda of broadband competition, consumer protection and fairness."  

Obama noted that Wheeler is the only dual member of both the cable television and the wireless industries hall of fame.

“He’s like the Jim Brown of telecom or the Beau Jackson of telecom. … For more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of how we communicated and how we live our lives.”

The President also praised Genachowski, calling him “an extraordinary FCC chairman.”

“Four years ago Julius set two priorities. Making high speed Internet available everywhere and keeping it open to everyone,” said Obama. “Thanks to his hard work and leadership, the FCC has made extraordinary progress on both fronts. We are helping millions more Americans connect to high speed internet. We are unleashing the airwaves to support the latest in mobile technology. We are protecting the Internet as an open platform for free speech. And we are poised to do even more thanks to Julius’s efforts.”

Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and special adviser to Common Cause, congratulated Wheeler but also said he hoped Wheeler could successfully step away from the lobbyists role he once played.  

“Tom is a man of many talents and wide industry experience with whom I enjoyed working when I was commissioner and acting chair of the FCC.  We did not always agree on the issues, but I appreciated his candor, knowledge, and ability to listen as well as to talk. Tom now has the opportunity to expand on his experience as an industry lobbyist to make policy that benefits all consumers and citizens,” said Copps.

Former Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn., offered his congrats as well.

“Tom has demonstrated strong leadership skills at a time of major change in the telecommunications, cable, and wireless industries," Dodd said. "I look forward to working with Tom, an entrepreneur and experienced policy expert,  to ensure the smooth delivery of American content over a variety of devices and networks, both here and abroad."

USTelecom President-CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr., called Wheeler “an extraordinary choice.”

He described Wheeler as “a leader of industry; an architect of communications policy; an innovator in the use of telecommunications technologies to advance education, health care, and the environment.”

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