Wheeler Nomination For FCC Chairman Clears Committee – UPDATE

Wheeler Nomination For FCC Chairman Clears Committee – UPDATE

UPDATE, August 2, 2013:  The White House nominated Mike O’Rielly to fll the vacant Republican seat on the Commission late yesterday.  If confirmed, he will serve out the unexpired term of Robert McDowell, who resigned.  The term runs through June 30, 2014.

ORIGINAL STORY, July 30, 2013:  In addition to approving its version of the 2013 NASA Authorization bill today, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the nomination of  Thomas Wheeler to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC oversees use of the electromagnetic spectrum and orbital positions by the private sector (NTIA, in the Department of Commerce, does that for government users).  It is a critically important player in hard-fought spectrum wars that more and more often pit satellites against the seemingly insatiable demand for terrestrial mobile broadband services.  The FCC also sets other requirements for commercial satellite operators, such as responsibly disposing of their satellites at the end of their service life as part of space debris mitigation.

The chairman and two of the other four members of the FCC are from the same party as the President; the other two members are from the opposite party. Often nominations for the FCC and similar governmental bodies are paired so that a Democratic nominee and a Republican nominee move through the Senate confirmation process together. In this case, the White House has not yet nominated a Republican to the FCC.  Today, Republicans on the Commerce Committee made clear that they oppose Wheeler’s nomination being considered by the Senate until a Republican nominee is ready.  Thune said there was no objection to Wheeler himself, only to the lack of a Republican nominee. 

Thus, even though Wheeler made it through committee today, it is difficult to say when he will be in place at the FCC.   The last FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, left in May.  FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is serving as acting chairwoman.  Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai are the other two commissioners currently in place. 

Wheeler is a venture capitalist and former head of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), both lobbying groups.

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