For the most part, the Senate Commerce confirmation hearing for Tom Wheeler was a smooth ride, with confirmation likely for the former NCTA head and President Obama‘s pick for FCC chmn. But that doesn’t mean a confirmation will come any time soon, at least not until Republicans can nominate a replacement for commish Robert McDowell, several observers said.
That process could take time because it doesn’t appear that a specific candidate has been identified. In addition, though most Republicans seemed receptive, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) could potentially put the confirmation on hold, one observer said, noting that Cruz voiced concern about potential FCC action to regulate political advertising and suggested it was an issue that could still "derail" the confirmation. He asked Wheeler to respond in writing on the subject. Senators’ questions to Wheeler are due next Tues.
Another observer predicted a confirmation could come in the fall after Congress’ Aug recess, while Stifel Nicolaus ‘ analysts also noted the possibility of delay, but "we don’t expect this issue to be an ultimate show-stopper." Some experts expect spectrum incentive auctions and broadband adoption to take priority in the Wheeler FCC even though several senators at the hearing were eager to address sports blackouts and retrans disputes.
Sen John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged FCC acting chair Mignon Clyburn to move to a NPRM regarding the Sports Blackout Rule. In a letter, the senators noted it has been more than a year since the agency initiated the docket as a NOI to determine whether the rule remains in the public interest. Commenters have put forth "a wide arrange of proposals," so "it’s time for the Commission to take the next logical step." But the letter also said legislation isn’t the only way to address the matter, noting that Congress never instructed the FCC to promulgate the sports blackout rule in the first place and arguing that the agency has "ample authority" to update the rules without any Congressional action.