Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler supported a proposal that could lift the FCC's ban on cellphone calls on planes. (Los Angeles Times / April 30, 2013)

A Washington insider with close ties to the media and telecommunications, is expected to be tapped as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Tom Wheeler, who has headed lobbying associations for both the cable television and mobile phone industries, is the leading candidate to succeed Julius Genachowski as chairman of the regulatory agency, Washington insiders confirm.

Chatter about Wheeler started inside D.C. circles almost immediately after Genachowski announced his intention to step down in March. Last week, the industry publication Broadcasting & Cable reported that the White House was vetting Wheeler.

The White House is expected to announce the nomination of Wheeler, currently a managing director with the private equity firm Core Capital Partners, in the coming days. While Wheeler goes through the confirmation process with Congress, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is expected to serve as acting chairman. 

Wheeler is a former president of the National Cable Television Assn. and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn. Despite his close ties to industries he will soon regulate, some media watchdogs are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“As someone who has known Tom for years, I believe that he will be an independent, proactive chairman," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and chief executive of Public Knowledge, adding that she has "no doubt that Tom will have an open door and an open mind, and that ultimately his decisions will be based on what he genuinely believes is best for the public interest, not any particular industry."

Free Press President and Chief Executive Craig Aaron was a little more jaded about the prospect of Wheeler becoming chairman of the FCC.

"The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader — someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest. On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations," Aaron said.

However, Aaron indicated that Free Press is hopeful that Wheeler and the rest of the FCC will "engage the public and make policies that truly benefit all Americans."

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