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Tom Wheeler will be the new chairman of the FCC

Tom Wheeler will be the new chairman of the FCC

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The US Senate has just unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, reports The Hill. The former wireless industry lobbyist, nominated by President Obama back in May, will be replacing acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who stepped in for former FCC chief Julius Genachowski when he left five months ago.

The revolving door turns

Now, the question is whether Wheeler will make decisions based on his loyalty to consumers, wireless companies, or both. Between his background as a lobbyist and the amount of effusive praise telecom companies heaped upon him after President Obama nominated him to the role, there was some worry that Wheeler might become a big business apologist. And yet, there are a lot of factors to consider before supposing that he might do so.

Public Knowledge, a public interest group, definitely seems optimistic that Wheeler will do the job well. "We expect that he will work to preserve a strong FCC that will ensure an open, universally successful and affordable communications system that serves all Americans," wrote Gigi Sohn, the organization's CEO.

Intriguingly, The Hill also cites newfound praise for Wheeler from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), who originally came off as highly skeptical that "a lobbyist" should fill the role. "A lobbyist is a lobbyist," Rockefeller told the publication in April. Now, he calls Wheeler "a strong advocate for consumers and the public interest at a time when the FCC is facing decisions that will shape the future of our nation's telephone network and the wireless, broadband, and video industries."

Rockefeller changes his mind

The Senate also unanimously confirmed the appointment of Michael O'Rielly, a longtime Republican advisor on Capitol Hill, to fill the vacant seat left by Republican FCC commissioner Robert McDowell earlier this year.