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Wheeler confirmed as FCC chairman

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Thomas Wheeler, a former head of two telecommunications trade associations and an early supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, was confirmed as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission by the Senate on Oct. 29.

Wheeler's nomination had been on hold because Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) expressed concerns that Wheeler was interested in imposing tougher disclosure requirements on political advertising. Currently, the FCC maintains an online collection of political advertising purchases as part of the public files of licensed broadcast stations. Cruz was concerned that the FCC might flex its muscles to get more information abut donors to nonprofits that buy ads on behalf of candidates and causes.

Cruz relented after Wheeler assured him that expanding the FCC's role in campaign finance was not a priority.

Joining Wheeler at the FCC will be Michael O'Rielly, a former staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who will take up one of two Republican seats on the commission. Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn will return to her role as a commissioner.

"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," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Rockefeller and many other Senate Democrats had pushed for the elevation of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to the top slot. Wheeler's past as head of trade associations in the mobile phone and cable industries was a concern to some Senate liberals, who worried that he might be too beholden to industry.

One of the big priorities for Wheeler is a reclamation and reverse auction of spectrum, a program that allows TV broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum licenses so providers of wireless broadband may bid on it. The technology required to support the closely watched auction is among the more novel and complex IT challenges facing government.

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:20 AM


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