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Senate confirms new U.S. top telecom regulator

U.S. President Barack Obama (unseen) announces venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) at the Stat
U.S. President Barack Obama (unseen) announces venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) at the Stat

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved Tom Wheeler to be the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), enabling the agency to start operating under a permanent leader after a holding period of several months.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said earlier on Tuesday he had lifted his block on the nomination after meeting with Wheeler and receiving affirmation that the FCC would not pursue new disclosure rules for sponsors of political ads.

Some Democrats have suggested that the FCC's existing oversight authority over broadcasters could be used to force TV advertisers to name specific sponsors for each political spot they buy after legislating such rules failed in Congress.

Cruz and other Republicans have urged the FCC to avoid the political matter.

Wheeler was confirmed on a combined vote along with Republican Michael O'Rielly, who had been nominated to fill the fifth and final open FCC commissioner position.

"What excites me about this new responsibility is how we are at a hinge moment of history; the Internet is the greatest communications revolution in the last 150 years," Wheeler said in a statement late Tuesday.

"We must all dedicate ourselves to encouraging its growth, expanding what it enables, and assuring its users' rights are respected," he added.

The telecommunications industry welcomed Wheeler's confirmation, which pulled the FCC from a holding pattern without a permanent leader on several crucial initiatives, including a forthcoming major reshuffling of ownership of airwaves.

"Both individuals bring an abundance of experience and deep knowledge of media, technology and telecommunications that will serve them well as the Commission considers important policy issues," National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell, himself a former FCC chairman, said in a statement.

In a statement, Cruz said Wheeler told him that the nominee "heard the unambiguous message" that pursuing the political disclosure efforts would "imperil the Commission's vital statutory responsibilities."

"He explicitly stated that doing so was 'not a priority,'" Cruz said about Wheeler, a telecom industry veteran and Obama adviser. "Based on those representations, I have lifted my hold on his nomination, and I look forward to working with him on the FCC to expand jobs and economic growth."

The FCC has been without a permanent leader since former Chairman Julius Genachowski left in May. It has been working since then under Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, the first woman to head the agency.

FCC operations, including approvals of new device licenses and acceptance of routine required filings, were stalled by the government shutdown during the first half of October. All but a few dozen of its roughly 1,700 workers were furloughed.

Wheeler has worked at a venture capital firm investing in technology, raised money for Obama's political campaigns and advised Obama and the FCC on telecom issues. He was previously an industry lobbyist, running the National Cable Television Association and then the wireless industry group CTIA.

O'Rielly was a longtime congressional staffer who worked on telecommunications issues. Industry insiders described him as well-versed in the issues he would be addressing.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Sandra Maler)

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