By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated venture capitalist and former wireless and cable lobbyist Tom Wheeler to be the top U.S. media and telecommunications regulator.
If approved by the Senate, Wheeler would become chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at a time when the agency is preparing for a major reshuffling of ownership of radio airwaves and trying to catch up to rapidly changing technology.
"For more than 30 years, Tom's been at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we've seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives," Obama said of Wheeler, who has advised his administration on telecoms policy and helped raise large sums for his presidential campaigns.
"Tom knows this stuff inside and out."
Wheeler, who now chairs the FCC's Technology Advisory Council and invests in tech at Core Capital Partners, headed the National Cable Television Association in the 1980s. From 1992 to 2004 he was CEO of the wireless industry group CTIA.
"If anybody's wondering about Tom's qualifications, Tom is the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame," Obama said of Wheeler, who stood next to the president at the nomination announcement.
Wheeler would succeed current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who plans to leave for the Aspen Institute think tank in coming weeks. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a senior Democrat on the panel, will take over as acting chairwoman - and the first-ever woman to head up the FCC - until the Senate confirms Genachowski's replacement.
Genachowski said he had known Wheeler personally and professionally for nearly 20 years.
"I can attest to Tom's commitment to harness the power of communications technology to improve people's lives, to drive our global competitiveness, and to advance the public interest," he said.
Welcoming comments poured in from all ends of the telecom industry, including mobile carriers, cable and Internet companies and consumer groups, all pointing to Wheeler's deep understanding of the market and expectations that he would promote competition and foster innovation.
AT&T Inc's Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi called the nomination "an inspired pick."
"Wheeler's combination of high intelligence, broad experience, and in-depth knowledge of the industry may, in fact, make him one of the most qualified people ever named to run the agency," he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Xavier Briand and David Brunnstrom)