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FCC nominee's lobbyist background cited by critics

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By The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — President Obama is expected to nominate Tom Wheeler, a friend and telecom industry executive, as head of the Federal Communications Commission as early as Wednesday, three people familiar with the administration's decision said.

Wheeler, a venture capital investor, would take over an agency struggling to keep up with enormous changes in the telecom industry as consumers turn to mobile devices and ultra-fast broadband Internet for news, communications and video entertainment.

Those policy issues would be fresh on the mind of the FCC nominee, who has served as adviser to both the White House and FCC on technology policy and industry trends.

But to the dismay of some critics, Wheeler comes with deep ties to the nation's biggest telecom lobbying groups. He has served as head of both the wireless industry's CTIA trade group and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, among the most powerful and deep-pocketed lobbying groups in Washington.

“I am skeptical that the former chief lobbyist of the wireless and cable industries will be capable of holding his former clients accountable for their ongoing shortcomings,” said Sascha Meinrath, head of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation think tank.

Wheeler sits on the board of EarthLink, and his investment firm Core Capital Partners has invested in wireless equipment and data center technology firms.

That range of industry experience, some experts say, shows a diversity of experience that may serve well for an agency in need of greater technological and business expertise.

“He can't be pigeon-holed,” said Gigi Sohn, president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “He's had a wide variety of experiences and has worked with competitive companies as well as incumbents. I truly believe he will be independent and thoughtful.”

The White House may also name sitting Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn to serve as interim chairman during Wheeler's Senate confirmation process, the three people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to officially leave after the agency's next public meeting on May 9.

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