Wheeler Confirmed to FCC as Industry Readies for Auction

Tom Wheeler has become chairman of the FCC at a time when the office is poised to make decisions that could change the wireless industry.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Tom Wheeler as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Michael O'Rielly as its newest commissioner.

Wheeler takes the place of Julius Genachowski, who announced his intended departure in March, while O'Rielly, a Republican, takes the place of Robert M. McDowell, who announced the same month his own plans for time off, after seven years of "serving the American people."

The commission consists of two Republican and two Democrat commissioners and a presidential-appointee chairperson.

"I have no doubt that [Wheeler] will be an outstanding FCC Chairman," said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who rose to the position of acting chair during the five months between Genachowski's departure and the Senate dotting its i's. "Tom brings a tremendous depth of experience, talent and knowledge that will serve him well as the leader of this critically important agency."

President Obama nominated Wheeler in May, calling him the "Bo Jackson of telecom" and the "only member of both the cable television and wireless industry halls of fame."

Wheeler was "in charge of the group that advises the FCC on the latest technology issues," the president continued. "He's helped give American consumers more choices and better products. So Tom knows this stuff inside and out."

Wheeler takes the position as all eyes in the wireless industry are on the FCC, which has said it will host a wireless spectrum auction in 2014.

T-Mobile and Sprint have been aggressively lobbying the FCC to put spectrum purchase limits in place, so that the massive pocketbooks of Verizon and AT&T don't prevent all others from benefiting from the rare event, while Verizon and AT&T have presented research and written letters insisting, among other points, that limits could lessen the revenue that the auction brings in.

While income wouldn't normally be an acceptable high priority for the FCC, an agenda of the auction is to raise $7 billion for the construction of a nationwide wireless emergency communications network.

The carriers are also concerned about whether they'll have equal opportunities to bid on sub-1GHz spectrum bands (the lower bands offer better in-building cellular coverage), along with a host of other issues that will need to be addressed.

While Clyburn was far from a seat-warmer during her five-month stint, the decisions around the auction are major ones that have been waiting for the new chairman.

That is not to say they'll be settled soon.