FCC nominee Tom Wheeler glides through Senate hearing

FCC nominee Tom Wheeler sat before the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday and emerged with few scars and a lot of encouragement. But that doesn’t mean Wheeler’s confirmation will happen any time soon. There are other shadows over the confirmation process.

Wheeler sought to immediately defuse conservative objections by saying that he had been a longtime executive and lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries, and that experience had persuaded him to believe in competition rather than regulation, although not exclusively one or the other. “The role of the FCC has evolved ... to promoting and protecting competition with appropriate oversight to see that it flourishes, ” Wheeler said.

“Competition is a power unto itself that must be encouraged,” he said. “Competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.” At the same time, he tried to reassure the public that in his new job he will not be working for industry.

When he worked for cable and wireless, “I was an advocate for specific points of view, and I hope I was a pretty good advocate,” he said. Wheeler went on, though, to say, “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, my client will be the American public, and I hope I can be as effective an advocate for them as humanly possible.”

Both Democratic committee chair and ranking Republican indicated they had no problems with Wheeler. “I think you’ve acquitted yourself extremely well,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). And, Senator John Thune (R-SD), said graciously, “I think you’re going to be confirmed and I think you’re up to the job.”

Under not-very-aggressive questioning, Wheeler revealed his positions on a range of issues. For instance:

Wheeler had written in his blog in 2011 that he might have favored the AT&T/T-Mobile merger with conditions. But yesterday, he evaded any policy position, saying that mergers are extremely important and “that [his] review must be conducted precisely based upon the facts in that specific instance, based upon the mandate the Congress has established in the act and based upon precedent. Those will be the guidelines I use in merger reviews.”

On the transition to IP, he said, “It's going to happen with or without us. The question is how do we mitigate the input of it?”

And, on broadband provided to our schools, he said, “It's not good enough to have 1996 textbooks in the classroom; I don't think it's good enough to have 1996 connectivity in the classroom.”

However, Senate Republicans, including Thune, want President Obama to name a Republican to an open FCC seat before they’ll be willing to confirm Wheeler and that, say observers, means the whole process could wait as long as the coming fall.

But Wheeler may have done a good enough job at yesterday’s hearing that committee Republicans let the vote go to the Senate floor where the Democratic majority all but assures Tom Wheeler his confirmation.

Wheeler confirmation hearings webcast (U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Jun. 18, 2013)

Tom Wheeler Will Probably Be the Next FCC Chairman (Mashable, Jun. 18, 2013)

F.C.C. Nominee Favors Competition Over Regulation (NY Times, Jun. 19, 2013)

FCC Nominee Chair Plays Up His Business Experience
, His lobbying experience is likely to come under scrutiny, though (AdWeek, Jun. 19, 2013)