Tom Wheeler

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Tom Wheeler
Tom Wheeler.jpg
Chair of the Federal Communications Commission
Term ends
November 2, 2018
Elections and appointments
NominatedMay 1, 2013
ConfirmedOctober 29, 2013
AppointedNovember 4, 2013
Appointed byBarack Obama
Bachelor'sOhio State University
Office website
Thomas E. Wheeler is the current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He was confirmed by the Senate on October 29, 2013, by a vote of unanimous consent.[1] Wheeler's term as an FCC Commissioner ends November 3, 2018.[2]

Wheeler previously worked in the telecom industry as a lobbyist, venture capitalist and executive.[3]


Wheeler earned his bachelor's degree from Ohio State University.[4]


Below is an abbreviated outline of Wheeler's academic, professional and political career:[4][5][3]

  • 1970-1984: Chief Executive of the National Cable Television Association
  • 1992-2004: Chief Executive of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association
  • 2000-2013: Director of OmniSky Corp.
  • 2003-2013: Independent Director of EarthLink Holdings Corp.
  • 2004-2006: Director of Inphonic, Inc.
  • 2004-2013: Advisor for Mercator Partners, LLC
  • 2004-2013: Partner and Managing Director of Core Capital Partners
  • 2005-2013: Non-executive Director of RealNetworks Asia Pacific Co., Ltd.
  • 2007-2013: Director of LimeLife, Inc.
  • 2013-Present: Chairman of the FCC

Confirmation vote

Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate on October 29, 2013, by a vote of unanimous consent.[4]

FCC Commissioner initiatives

Sporting event blackout rules

On August 12, 2014, republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai called for the FCC to remove the rules that force cable and satellite television providers to black out sporting events if they're blacked out in the local market. Pai suggested the blackout rules favor the interests of team owners because games get blacked out in local markets when a certain threshold of seats were not sold.[6] With opposition to any changes headed by the National Football League and AFL-CIO, Wheeler wrote an op-ed on September 9, 2014, announcing that a vote on the issue would take place by the end of September 2014, stating, "With the first weekend of professional football in the books, two things should be abundantly clear: The NFL is king; and the Federal Communication Commission's sports blackout rules are obsolete and have to go."[7]

Open internet

On May 15, 2014, the FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, to pass new rules regarding net neutrality. The idea behind net neutrality is that internet service providers treat all content equally. The new rules proposed a "fast lane" be offered to larger content managers for a fee to ensure that internet providers do not purposefully slow down the data coming from the high bandwidth content managers like Google, Facebook or Netflix. FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler defended the new rules, stating, "The potential for there to be some kind of a fast lane available to only a few has many people concerned. Personally, I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have nots, and I will work to see that that does not happen. In this item we specifically ask whether and how to prevent the kind of paid prioritization that could result in fast lanes."[8]

Opponents of the new rule claim they will have the opposite effect of neutrality, stifling competition for new companies. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) claimed, "The very essence of net neutrality is that a better idea or service should be allowed to succeed on its merits and not have to pay tolls to reach potential customers. Rules allowing pay-to-play deals would also harm consumers, who could no longer be confident that the Internet speeds they pay for are sufficient to access the services they want."[8]

The rules were opened to public comment for a period of four months, at which point the FCC will finalize the rules.[8] The FCC announced on August 18, 2014, the public comments would remain open an additional five days, making the deadline September 25, 2014.[9]

"Internet Slowdown"

Companies such as Netflix, Etsy, Kickstarter and Reddit teamed up with non-profit organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demand Progress on September 10, 2014, in an attempt to raise awareness prior to the end of the open commenting period set by the FCC on net neutrality rules. The companies opposed the new rules written by Commissioner Wheeler and changed ads and banners on their websites to show messages such as, "If there were Internet slow lanes, you’d still be waiting."[10] Public comments on the topic surpassed that of any prior topic's comments the same day, gaining more attention than the Whitney Houston "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl. The record was previously 1.4 million comments. According to the Sunlight Foundation, about two-thirds of the comments submitted supported the reclassification of internet access to be more like public utilities, while only one percent of commenters were estimated to be directly opposed to net neutrality.[11]

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) announced his support of the "Internet Slowdown" and added a similar banner to his website. In a statement, Markey said, "Today, I stand in solidarity with the ‘net-izens’ of the world to show what the Internet would look like with fast and slow lanes. An open Internet enables freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas across town or across the globe. That openness is at stake if the FCC allows broadband behemoths to play traffic cop, discriminating against some, while letting those who can afford to sail on by."[12]


Washington Redskins radio license

A George Washington University professor filed a claim on September 2, 2014, with the FCC aimed at revoking the license of a radio station run by the Washington Redskins, due to the racial implications of the name. While Wheeler stated in response on September 10, 2014, "I don't use the term personally and I think it is offensive and derogatory," he also would not commit to using the power of the FCC to force a name change. He explained, "I think it would be great if the Washington football team would recognize those kinds of changes itself. I hope that this is something that if enough people express themselves, Dan Snyder can see which way things are going."[13]

Democratic donor waiver probe

On July 31, 2014, House Republicans began a probe into an FCC waiver given to Grain Management, a private equity firm. Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) claimed the company may have received special treatment because the head of the company, David Grain, donated $5,000 to President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign as well as thousands more to other Democratic candidates. The congressmen wrote a letter to Wheeler stating, "The Energy and Commerce Committee is committed to conducting vigorous oversight to ensure that Commission processes are fair, open, and transparent, and that they serve the public interest. The granting of the Grain Management waiver raises questions about these processes." They also requested any communications between Grain and the FCC prior to the waiver being issued in June 2014. An FCC spokesperson defended the waiver in a statement, claiming, "The Commission’s action, which followed a period of public notice and comment, is consistent with Congress’s directive to design auctions that encourage participation among a wide variety of companies, including small businesses,” he said in a statement. “We stand ready to act as a resource to Congress as we continue to address this important issue.[14]


Wheeler is married his wife, Carole.[15]

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