Senate confirms Wheeler, O'Rielly to FCC posts

The Senate on late Tuesday unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler to be the next FCC chairman and also unanimously confirmed Michael O'Rielly, a staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), as one of the two Republican commissioners on the five-member panel.

fcc obama tom wheeler

President Barack Obama nominated Tom Wheeler as head of the FCC in May. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The confirmation vote was delayed for two weeks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had placed a hold on Wheeler's nomination over concerns with answers Wheeler had given on whether the FCC will require more disclosures from the sponsors of political advertisements. According to The Hill, Cruz lifted the hold after Wheeler told him during a private meeting Tuesday that stricter disclosure requirements for the donors behind political TV ads are "not a priority" for him.

Wheeler takes over as the FCC recovers from the 16-day government shutdown earlier this month and as it is preparing a series of critical spectrum auctions for 2014 and beyond. The commission has been led since this spring by Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic commissioner, following the resignation of former Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Wheeler was president of the CTIA from 1992 to 2003 before joining D.C.-based venture capital firm Core Capital Partners as managing director in 2005. He also headed the National Cable Television Association from 1979 to 1984. Wheeler, who raised almost $250,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election effort, is seen as someone with the technology and policy chops to do the job. However, as a former lobbyist, he also took some flak from public interest groups and some lawmakers.

Still, in the wake of his confirmation and the confirmation of O'Rielly, both received largely widespread praise and wishes of good luck from carriers, think tanks and public interest groups. "I congratulate Tom Wheeler and Michael O'Rielly on their Senate confirmations," Clyburn said in a statement. "Tom brings a tremendous depth of experience, talent, and knowledge that will serve him well as the leader of this critically important agency. I have no doubt that he will be an outstanding FCC Chairman. With his extensive public policy expertise and understanding of the communications landscape, Michael will certainly be an invaluable asset to the commission."

"On behalf of CTIA member companies, I wish to extend my congratulations to Tom and Mike on their Senate confirmation," CTIA President Steve Largent added in a statement. "Tom's deep knowledge of communications issues, strong leadership and clarity of vision in the dynamically changing communications sector will benefit consumers and the economy as we migrate to an increasingly mobile world. Mike also brings an impressive depth of experience in telecommunications, and an appreciation of the important role that wireless broadband plays in driving wireless investment and innovation." 

Wheeler and O'Rielly will arrive at an agency that has a full agenda, especially from a wireless perspective. Earlier this month, The FCC delayed by eight days the start of the auction of 1900 MHz PCS H Block following the government shutdown; the auction was supposed to start Jan. 14, 2014, but will now begin Jan. 22, the FCC said.

The commission is also set to begin incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum to increase mobile broadband capacity sometime next year. The FCC is also going to auction several other blocks of spectrum--in the in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, 2020-2025 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands--by February 2015, known as AWS-3. At the same time, the FCC has an ongoing proceeding on whether and how to limit spectrum holdings by carriers, which likely will be finalized before the incentive auctions and AWS-3 auctions.

For more:
- see this TIME article
- see this The Hill article
- see this CNET article

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