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Former mobile-biz lobbyist Wheeler to become top US frequency cop

FCC boss needs to be auctioneer and priest, too

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President Obama has nominated former CTIA boss Tom Wheeler to take over the FCC, putting the man who spent 12 years lobbying on behalf of network operators in charge of their regulation.

The Wall Street Journal was first to the story, reporting that FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will act as chair while the Senate confirms the appointment of Wheeler: but White House sources have confirmed the proposal to various publications, making it almost inevitable that Tom Wheeler will be the next FCC chair now that Julius Genachowski is on his way.

Not that this is a bad thing. Despite spending 12 years leading the cellular industry's mouthpiece he left the CTIA in 2004 and since then has argued in favour of greater regulation (significantly with reference to the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile) and managed to make friends on both sides of the fence.

Wheeler takes over the FCC at a critical time, when its prime directive is under pressure from politicians who've become all too used to the regulator being a decent source of revenue as well as managing the industry.

But the FCC, in common with other national regulators, is charged with ensuring the airwaves are filled to capacity, not sold to fill government coffers. Recent wisdom dictated that the latter was the best way to achieve the former, on the he-who-pays-most-has-most-incentive principle, but that argument is looking increasingly thin as companies muscle each other out - and the most-utilised spectrum of all (2.4GHz) was given away for free.

The IT industry, Google, Microsoft et al, would like to see much more spectrum thrown open to unlicensed use, while the near-duopoly of AT&T and Verizon would prefer to see heavy restrictions on unlicensed use while they consolidate and carve up the customer base between them.

The FCC isn’t just about radio spectrum, it also polices decency in broadcasting and broadband internet access amongst other things: both of which have proved equally controversial, making the position of chair an interesting one in all sorts of ways. ®

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