Senate confirms Tom Wheeler as FCC chairman

Tom Wheeler Core Capital

We have a new Federal Communications Commission chairman. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler, Obama’s nominee to head up the country’s communications regulatory body on Tuesday, after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lifted his objections.

Wheeler, who has been the chief lobbyist for both the cable and the mobile industries, will take over an FCC about to embark on massive transfer of spectrum from the TV broadcasters to the mobile carriers. He will also have a crucial say in some key consolidation deals, including AT&T’s acquisition of the country’s now fifth largest operator Leap Wireless, as well as oversee some fairly controversial issues facing the commission such as net neutrality and interoperability among mobile operators.

Wheeler will assume the reins from acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who will return to her regular commissioner role after taking over from Julius Genachowski this spring. Genachowski has his critics, but he also has a huge a legacy. Under his chairmanship, the FCC helped stop AT&T’s attempt to swallow T-Mobile in 2011, putting firm limits on the major carriers’ acquisition ambitions.

The Senate also confirmed Michael O’Rielly as one of the FCC’s Republican commissioners, meaning we’ll now have a full five-member commission. Meanwhile the mobile industry Wheeler will regulate is in its own process of transition. Steve Largent, who heads up CTIA — the lobbying group Wheeler once led — is stepping down at the end of 2014.

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