| WASHINGTON, June 18
WASHINGTON, June 18 President Barack Obama's
choice for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is
expected to face questions about his past work within the
telecommunications industry at a Senate confirmation hearing on
The Senate Commerce Committee panel will be the first public
address by Tom Wheeler, an industry veteran, since he was tapped
in May to succeed Julius Genachowski.
Lawmakers and public interest groups have said they hope to
use the hearing to clarify Wheeler's positions on the FCC's
hottest agenda items, such as network neutrality and the amount
of spectrum allowed for one owner, and receive reassurances he
has severed ties with the trade groups he used to represent.
Wheeler, now a venture capitalist who has advised Obama and
the FCC on telecom issues, ran the National Cable Television
Association in the 1980s and then wireless industry group CTIA
until 2004. During Obama's presidential campaigns, Wheeler also
was a major fundraiser.
"He will have to demonstrate that he can take a wider view
because he's representing citizens throughout the land ... We
all want to believe that he will overcome that and I hope that
he will," said Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner now at the
liberal advocacy group Common Cause.
Wheeler has vowed to divest stakes in several technology or
telecoms companies if confirmed, including Google Inc
and Dish Network Corp .
Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who heads
the Commerce Committee, has in the past bristled at Wheeler's
lobbyist past. Earlier this year, Rockefeller and dozens of
other senators wrote to Obama, promoting the nomination of the
committee's former staffer and now junior FCC Commissioner,
But aides and insiders say the hearing is unlikely to be
contentious given wide industry respect for Wheeler, 67.
Rockefeller's offices said on Tuesday he plans to ask Wheeler to
commit to expanding E-Rate, a program that subsidizes high-speed
Internet at schools, which is backed by Obama.
"I don't think that anyone on the committee has any
reluctance to support Tom," said former Democratic FCC Chairman
Reed Hundt, adding he did not think the senators believed in
"litmus tests for the FCC Chair."
"Nobody's ever been more well-prepared for this job," Hundt
said, describing Wheeler as a diplomat.
Many in the industry who have worked with Wheeler describe
him as a masterful negotiator, but also a strong-willed
decision-maker. That suggests a contrast to Genachowski, whose
critics say his desire for consensus and unanimous votes on
issues left several important issues unresolved or unfinished.
If confirmed by the Senate, Wheeler would take over at the
FCC as it readies for a major reshuffling of the ownership of
radio airwaves and tries to catch up to rapidly changing
technology, including the transition of the telephone industry
away from traditional analog networks to digital ones.
At a recent event at the nonprofit Brookings Institute, AT&T
Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said he was "energized" by
Wheeler leading the FCC.
"I suspect Tom and I don't agree on every policy issue, but
I expect it to be a fruitful FCC," he said, calling Wheeler "a
big brain" and a progressive thinker. "I think it'll be an FCC
that you see begin to move really critical issues forward."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh. Editing by Ros Krasny)