Senate confirms former PBS Board member Wheeler as FCC chair

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The Senate confirmed former PBS Board member Tom Wheeler Tuesday night to head the FCC, reports The Hill.

“Tom Wheeler will be 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,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller. The West Virginia Democrat and others initially expressed concern about Wheeler’s role as a former industry lobbyist. Wheeler was president of the National Cable Television Association from 1979-84 and later led the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. He is a managing director at Core Capital, a firm that invests in tech start-ups.

“We had plenty of questions about the choice of Mr. Wheeler,” said Craig Aaron, president of media-reform advocate Free Press, “but what matters is what you do once you’re sitting in the big chair. And there is a lot to do: connecting all Americans to the wonders of the open Internet, encouraging meaningful competition, diversifying media ownership, and making sure that this crucial agency has the power to protect people everywhere when predatory or powerful corporations step over the line.”

Wheeler said in a statement that he is “humbled by the Senate’s confirmation, and I look forward to taking the oath of office in the coming days. I am deeply grateful to President Obama for his confidence in nominating me for this position.”

At the same time, the Senate unanimously confirmed Michael O’Rielly, a staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), to one of the two Republican posts on the commission.

The vote on Wheeler was delayed for two weeks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who questioned Wheeler’s views on rules regarding political disclosure. The Hill reported that Wheeler assured him in a private meeting Tuesday that tougher disclosure requirements for the donors behind political TV ads are “not a priority” for him, and Cruz lifted his objection.

Wheeler replaces Julius Genachowski, who stepped down as chair in May after four years at the regulatory agency.

The confirmations bring the FCC to its full membership of five commissioners for the first time in five months.