Is Tom Wheeler the Frontrunner for FCC Chief?

Public interest and former Obama officials nudge president in letter

President Obama is getting an earful about who he should nominate as the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission, but despite all the noise and Beltway gossip, one name keeps popping to the top: Tom Wheeler.

Wheeler "appears to still have the inside track," wrote Stifel analysts Christopher King and David Kaut.

It didn't hurt Wheeler that he picked up backing this week from 11 public interest advocates and former government officials. In a letter to the president, they praised the former cable lobbyist and venture capitalist as someone with an "open mind and an intelligent take on the challenges that will confront the new chairman," namely the expansion of broadband, the build-out of a public safety network and the pending auction of TV spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless services.

The letter, sent April 9 and first reported by The Hill, serves as a counterweight to a letter sent last month by Senate commerce chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and 36 other senators supporting commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who served on Rockefeller's staff.

Among the Wheeler supporters, one that stood out was Susan Crawford, an Obama former tech policy advisor and an oft-mentioned contender for the FCC herself. Also throwing support behind Wheeler was Andy Schwartzman, the former president of the Media Access Project, who led the fights against loosening the FCC's media ownership rules.

Wheeler's other big advantage is his fundraising for Obama. According to the Obama campaign, Wheeler raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for the president's re-election. 

Women are sure to be disappointed if Obama doesn't pick the agency's first women chair. That came through subtly, but clearly, at a Minority Media & Telecom Council luncheon honoring the 15 women commissioners who served on the FCC. Obama could easily name a woman to serve as interim chairwoman, an easy solution since his only two choices are women, commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.