WASHINGTON — President Obama is expected to nominate Tom Wheeler, a friend and telecom industry executive, to head 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.
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 Wheeler comes with deep ties to the biggest telecom lobbying groups. He served as head of the wireless industry’s CTIA trade group and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, among the most powerful and deep-pocketed lobby groups.
“I am skeptical that the former chief lobbyist of the wireless and cable industries will be capable of holding his former clients accountable,” said Sascha Meinrath, head of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation think tank.
Wheeler is on EarthLink’s board, and his investment firm, Core Capital Partners, has invested in wireless and data center technology firms. That range of industry experience, some say, could bolster 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. “I truly believe he will be independent.”
Outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski, who made the expansion of broadband a FCC priority, is expected to officially leave after the agency’s next public meeting on May 9.
Wheeler will inherit a contentious and drawn-out battle to auction television airwaves. He may also have to weigh in on the fast-changing television landscape .