Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Obama to Name Tom Wheeler, a Former Lobbyist, to Head FCC (wsj.com)
78 points by yekko 1518 days ago | hide | past | web | 65 comments | favorite

It's interesting what the headline chooses to mention. He was a lobbyist from 1979-1984, but he's also a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who has founded multiple telecommunications companies: "Mr. Wheeler is a managing director at Core Capital Partners, a Washington investment firm with $350 million under management. He has helped to oversee the firm’s investments in an array of start-ups and small- to mid-size technology companies, including GoMobo, Twisted Pair Solutions and Jacked. He also is a member of the board of EarthLink, an Internet service provider that competes aggressively with Verizon and AT&T." (From the NYT article).

The NYT article is a bit better: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/business/technology-invest...

Forbes has more info: http://www.forbes.com/profile/thomas-wheeler.

BusinessWeek has a more complete profile: http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/pe...

He has a blog/website: http://www.mobilemusings.net.

I would also point out that on the face of it, Lobbyists aren't evil. They are effectively part of your representation in government and should be well-informed in their special interest.

What is evil is when they are granted inappropriate influence over the legislation, regulation and appropriation.

And that problem pretty much starts with campaign donations but has roots in other areas as well.

> "He also is a member of the board of EarthLink, an Internet service provider that competes aggressively with Verizon and AT&T."

Is that the Scientologist ISP?

The company was founded by several Scientologists, yes - Sky Dayton, Reed Slatkin, and Kevin M. O'Donnell.

It's my understanding that while they were directly involved, some of the published media the corporation put out would sometimes have a 'column' where Sky ended up mentioning Scientology in some way. However, none of them are involved in the company any more.

The company went through some major restructuring, leadership and organization-wise, in 2006-2007. They're a public company with a board of directors (of which Tom is now a part). Not sure how much Scientology has any impact or connection (financial or otherwise) to it any more, so I'm not sure calling it the 'Scientologist ISP' is still accurate.

I know that the connections/beliefs of the founders - and the fact that Reed Slatkin was convicted of a massive ponzi scam - has put Earthlink on many scam/cult watch lists semi-permanently.

If you're attempting to draw a connection between Tom and Scientology, though, I'm not sure I follow.

Sadly, the WSJ has just another soundboard for Rupert Murdoch's FUD. Doing whatever they can do to make a story more polarizing.

(EDIT: Disregard the following, see ordinary's reply) Not that I disagree about the WSJ, but it seems that the lobbyist part of the headline was added by the submitter.

The article's header says "Obama to Name Wheeler to Head FCC", but the HTML title attribute says "Obama to Name Wheeler, a Former Lobbyist, to Head FCC".

Oh hey, it does. Apologies. (Viewing title tags is inconvenient on a phone.)

Here's the story at the LA Times, which is not behind a paywall:

Obama to nominate venture capitalist Thomas Wheeler to head FCC


This notion that each industry knows best how to regulate itself keeps ending us up in one disaster after another.

The most regulated industries in America are banking, medicine, and education. It seems to be doing a good job.

Meanwhile internet technology is among the least regulated. Someone needs to do something to ensure a vibrant competitive landscape.

Yes, your comment is witty, but I think it's critically flawed. Firstly, medicine and education should be public services, in the sense that their management should have the imperative of increasing living conditions for the populace rather than generating capital. It can also be added that arguably, the purpose of banking is to increase living standards, instead of being a business for those that control it.

Secondly, you're implying that the correlation between regulation and 'success' in those sectors implies causation between the two. Do you really think that the problem with health care in the US is that it's not regulated ENOUGH? Similarly, correct me if I'm wrong, but are you implying that education should be privatised? And lastly, do you think that the success of internet technology is a result of the fact that it has been less regulated than other industries (I'm not saying that it SHOULD be regulated, I'm just questioning whether or not that is a crucial factor)?

If that was intended only as a joke I understand, however I think it's important to think seriously about these things if we are to every try to fix them.

EDIT: typo

Using your logic, shouldn't access to knowledge and information (the internet) be a public service too? Shouldn't management have the imperative of increasing living conditions for the populace rather than generating capital apply to internet as well?

The logic behind the reasoning for healthcare, education, banking, telcom being heavily regulated is extremely flawed. The real reason those sectors are heavily regulated is so they can lock in profits with little effort.

The internet is more than access to knowledge and information, and I agree that the sectors responsible for knowledge and information should have the imperative of increasing living conditions, and not generating capital. This is why Wikipedia should not be a business; this is why universities should not be businesses and this why they should receive tax dollars. Note however, that whether or not they should be regulated is a totally different matter. I was questioning the notion that the problem with banking, medicine, and education in the US is excessive regulation.

On the other hand, companies like Amazon and Facebook have little to do with broadening access to knowledge and information (barring the latter in a trivial sense of the word), and are oriented towards generating capital, so I don't think the rhetorical questions that you open with are applicable here.

I'd like to hear you elaborate on why the reasoning for regulation is flawed in the cases of healthcare, education, banking, telecom.

"The real reason those sectors are heavily regulated is so they can lock in profits with little effort."

Exactly, how do so many people miss this?

>"in the sense that their management should have the imperative of increasing living conditions for the populace rather than generating capital"

Couldn't this be said of the food industry, the clothing industry, etc.? How are you not arguing for communism?

> banking, medicine

So either this is extreme sarcasm or extremely hilarious in a laugh-gets-stuck-in-your-throat kind of way.

America has the world's preeminent financial sector and medical sector, and when you adjust for demographics its K12 education sector is in line with that of western European countries, while its university system is again preeminent in the world.

The situation in the US is not quality, but access. But the same phenomenon exists for internet technology (e.g. The digital divide).

if the banks and wallstreet had it their way, there would not be many regulations

demonstrably false. The major wall street banks have lobbied for arcane regulation for decades. See of all the inclusions at their request into the Dowd-Frank bill, or SarbOx, etc. The federal reserve act of 1913 was the a major step up in regulation of the banking sector, and was primarily pushed by the largest banks at the time. Former lobbyists have stated that their stated strategy is to create barriers to entry in legal compliance costs so smaller competitors can't effectively compete.

This notion that industry needs regulating keeps ending us up in one disaster after another.

Who was it who said "when buying and selling are legislated, the first things to be bought and sold are the legislators?"

How would the free market prevent the Fertilizer plant from exploding and killing all those people?

The industry under discussion (communications) generally does not risk lives, i.e., no catastrophe when you screw up.

Some types of industry do risk lives. Don't confuse safety regulations with other business regulations. They serve completely different purposes.

We should regulate the hell out of fertilizer depots, power generators, medical software, flight. For good reason.

Communications can, in fact, kill people. High-intensity electromagnetic emissions. Those cell towers in the middle of the city have to be very thougthfully planned and installed.

If "high-intensity electromagnetic emissions" from cell towers kill people, I doubt making them safe is just a matter of placement.

If you want to place some in the middle of a city, they will be close to a lot of people, and if their emissions kill people, it's probably not a good idea to place them near lots of people. But they have been placed pretty much everywhere. It appears that either you're overstating the dangers, or we're both about to die any second now.

How did the regulated market prevent it from blowing up?

If you've been paying any attention at all to the West, TX, story, you'd be aware that the regulators were largely defundend and eviscerated by anti-regulation interests.

Gov. Perry got a little steamed when his "Business is Booming" campaign was highlighted:


Edit: better story link to cartoon.

How did a law against murder prevent murders from happening?

Fertilizer plants are expensive? As are wrongful death lawsuits?

Not saying this is enough but no one is exploding these things for profit.

Tort reform in Texas HIGHLY limits the payout on a wrongful death lawsuit. It'd barely be a dent in a days business for the plant.

Explosions are very bad for business not only is your valuable plant destroyed but you can't make fertilizer until you build a new one. Existing and potential employees would demand higher wages and/or increased safety measures after an accident. Neither the free free nor a regulatory body can reliably prevent all accidents. Probably has more to do with how the interested parties value life and property.

That's a great theory, but real life has shown time and time again that businesses don't always act in their own long-term interests and individuals aren't rational actors. And people aren't satisfied when the "cost of business" to reach the end-goal of having poor businesses weeded out is people's lives.

Except they work on the idea "oh that will never happen", ala BP oil rig explosions.

They refused to build a blast wall and congress defunded inspections so the last one was in the 90s so there was never any enforcement.

Theoretically civil lawsuits, or the threat of such.

That would be an interesting experiment - fully unregulated airwaves. Imagine AT&T jamming Verizon's 3G signal, private transmitter hijacking terminals, etc.

Well, in the jamming case, Verizon would probably jam AT&T back. So neither is getting any revenue, and they are left to work out a truce or face bankruptcy.

There exists swathes of practically unlicensed spectrum, such as ham radio and 2.4GHz. While regulation exists, large scale enforcement is pretty much unheard of, yet it works pretty well.

The big cellular telecom standards (GSM and CDMA) assume a very orderly environment (contrasting the 801.11x standards that are more adaptive), so they would probably look different in a world with unregulated airwaves.

EDITED to add: For the purpose of such a thought experiment, It's not practical to imagine what would happen if the current GSM 2G and 3G spectrum just became unlicensed overnight. There is a huge infrastructure investment, both on the carrier and consumer ends that would become worthless, and this is clearly undesirable. Rather, imagine a block of airwaves (say, ex-military or analogue broadcast TV) being released with zero or minimal regulation (no exclusivity, basically).

2.4 GHZ are regulated in the only dimension that matters for spectrum: power output. And unlicensed devices are all inspected and approved by the FCC.

The ISM bands are vastly less regulated. It's some of the most useful spectrum because of that.

I get the point of view. I disagree with it, but even more, I find it jarring to apply a faith-based approach to thinking about these things in lieu of a critical assessment one. As if it were sufficient to cut through all the tangle and uncertainty with, like, "Daniel 11:3 'And a great king shall stand up ...'" and think that was case and point.

What's more, it's hardly clear that you've got this proverb the right way around: It seems as likely that corrupt legislators create regulation to enrich them and their kind, as opposed to well-intentioned regulation leading to the corruption of legislators. I've cut out the middle - corrupt legislators creating corrupt legislation - which is what we actually have and also the sort of murk that doesn't lend itself to witticism.

P.J. O'Rourke said it. Nothing else explains regulatory capture so succinctly.

Corruption USA style.

They told me that if I voted for Mitt Romney that lobbyists would be put in charge of the internet.

There was nothing false about that. It was your mistake for assuming that voting for Obama wouldn't also result in lobbyists being put in charge.

As long as we have only 2 parties, they will have no incentive to do anything different from one another. It's like expecting your local cable monopoly to be a better ISP because they have to compete with your local telephone monopoly for Internet subscribers.

I completely agree. Even though there are many political parties[1] in the US, there are only two that have the funds and mindshare to win presidential elections.

I like that independents like Bernie Sanders[2] and Angus King[3] manage to get into the senate, it provides a little bit of hope for change.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_th...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_Sanders

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_King

The two major parties are propped up by the mathematics of voting, and funds. I believe mindshare is a symptom of those two things.


Interesting site, but the process is more complex than I think it needs to be. Try instant-runoff voting[1], Australia already switched to it: http://www.cgpgrey.com/blog/the-alternative-vote-explained.h...

Of course, this assumes that people know how to vote for the parties best for them. Which comes down to quality education and good news sources. You’d have to ban paid political ads, SuperPACs, lobbyists.

Then there’s the matter of voting fraud. Voting computers shouldn’t be used at all, all voting should be done on paper and the ballot design should be standardized. Voter registration should be done away with. On election day, all public transport should be free and workers should get at least one hour paid leave to go out and vote.

(None of these things are going to happen anytime soon, but I think they would help.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting

Not for single-winner elections. STV (IRV) isn't so bad for multi-winner elections, but for single-winner elections it fails monotonicity. (It's difficult to design a multi-winner election system that's truly bad.) You think Florida in 2000 was bad? If there's a significant election skewed by IRV's problems, the population will want to burn the people who chose it at the stake.






IRV is a hack to incorporate run-off voting into the first-round voting system, and run-off voting is lacking.

In a political system as dysfunctional as the U.S., allowing voters to express true voting preferences is more important than having a voting system that will lead to only marginally better outcomes. Once true voting preferences are known, the political parties will have to adjust to accommodate that. As long as the voting system encourages some people to hide their true voting preferences, those preferences cannot push the two dominant political parties to change their platforms.

Don't Sanders & King almost always vote with the democrats? I would like to see real independents that vote sometimes with one party sometimes with the other and sometimes against both. That would be a true independent.

As for Sanders, given the two-party system, I would expect a senator left of the Democrats to mostly vote with the Democrats just as I would expect a senator to the right of the Republicans to mostly vote with the Republicans. We need more political parties on the left, right, and center, but I don't think limited options makes him a false independent. As for King, he's only got a few months of a voting record, but it makes sense to caucus with the majority given the choice.

Left right and center are mostly party constructs. Political ideology is infinitely more complicated than that, but the idea of left, right, and center make it easier to lump your beliefs nicely with those of others, which is necessary for a party system. In reality a politician can be in favor of regulating the oil industry and against regulating the communications industry; there is not hypocrisy there.

Democracies tend to gravitate towards a binary choice, regardless of the actual number of parties. This happens all the time in Europe.

Don't mistake the fact that we have social policies different from those in the US for diversity, it is very much a cross-party consensus.

I never suggested that we should imitate Europe, did I? That would lead to even worse economic problems than we already have.

I just think that we need to introduce more competition so that the parties are forced to compete on concrete goals and actions, rather than lofty ideals that are more suited to a sports match (which is what American politics often feels like).

No, I was reacting to this:

> As long as we have only 2 parties, they will have no incentive to do anything different from one another.

In Europe, there are many more parties, but that doesn't make politics less of a two-team sports match.

My point was that you've identified the wrong culprit in the two-party system.

It doesn't matter who you vote for; lobbyists already control the Internet.

> It doesn't matter who you vote for; lobbyists already control the Government.


If voting actually changed anything, they'd make it illegal.

Does being a former lobbyist make him inherently evil, though? I'm no fan of lobbying from any aspect, but it's shallow to judge his priorities off of this one piece of his career -- especially with the article highlighting his history in favor of the government regulating telecom.

As a lobbyist, he headed the National Cable Television Association, and later the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Why might cable TV operators, cell operators and Internet providers would pay someone good money to lobby for more government regulation? What business purpose could that possibly serve?

These are irrelevant questions, as the article specifically states that he is in support of regulation:

"...Tom Wheeler, appeared open in 2011 to letting wireless giant AT&T Inc. acquire T-Mobile USA...But he had a price. In exchange for a $39 billion merger, AT&T would have had to agree to a slew of new regulations, according to an idea Mr. Wheeler laid out at the time on his personal blog."

If you dig into said personal blog, you can find the following article [1], where Mr. Wheeler summarizes his reasoning:

"Now we have the perverse situation where a government win means less regulation while a victory for the corporate interest opens the door to more."

It is clear through his explanation that his approval was meant only as leverage for harsher regulations on the duopoly of wireless TelCos. That is a pretty solid indicator of where his allegiance lies. Likewise, if you meander around his blog, you'll see lots of musings in favor of Net Neutrality.

[1]: http://www.mobilemusings.net/2011/09/awaiting-final-aria.htm...

My point is that "regulation" isn't a monotonous scale from "more/better" to "less/worse". The quote and link does not at all answer my questions; what regulations did he work for as a lobbyist, and why?

Industry incumbents frequently use lobbyists to create regulation to raise the bar to entry in their field, cementing their own position and stifling competition - creating the kinds of complacent mono/doupolies that we know so well from cable companies and ISPs.

To be fair, those were actually fairly progressive and disruptive industries when was involved in lobbying for them.

So why did they need lobbying for more regulation? Why did they turn into complacent monopolies?

Lobbying is just a way of telling the government what regulatory environment you think best suits your industry. At the time he was lobbying, the push was for deregulation, which was the right call.

As for why they have become complacent monopolies: that is the nature of telecom (natural monopolies). There is unlimited economics of scale, so the most efficient state is E.G. For Verizon to keep growing until its the only wireless carrier.

Hope. Change. Flushed.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact