A Historian for the FCC; Tom Wheeler Would Grasp the Importance of Technology

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Historian for the FCC; Tom Wheeler Would Grasp the Importance of Technology


Byline: Randolph J. May, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Tom Wheeler, President Obama's nominee to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has lots of experience in the communications policy arena. While some have suggested his long-ago leadership of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and of CTIA (the trade association for wireless companies) somehow should be disqualifying, in my view, the knowledge he gained in these positions ought to be a plus.

Mr. Wheeler's more recent experience investing in communications, Internet, and high-tech companies with Core Capital Partners should be useful as well. What intrigues me more about Mr. Wheeler is his avocation as a historian, and a serious one at that.

Yes, a historian, with a particular interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It is possible that Mr. Wheeler's appreciation for history's sweep could be as helpful to the new FCC chairman as his experience in the communications policy field.

Mr. Wheeler's book, Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War, was published in 2006. Michael Beschloss, one of my favorite historians, had this to say about the book: "'Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails' is a fascinating, succinct and original history of how a great president used cutting-edge technology to save his country.

Telegrams as a cutting-edge technology ? In 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse sent the first telegram in the United States from Washington to Baltimore, exclaiming: What hath God wrought? It was a fitting exclamation for the so-called cutting-edge technology of the day.

As we learn from Mr. Wheeler's interesting book, the telegraph - now surely a historical relic - was key to preserving the union. In contrast, in 'Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails,' Mr. Wheeler relates in the very first paragraph how he realized the Iraq war was the first war by email.

From T-Mails to Gmails, not to mention Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all the myriad data, voice and video services make up what today we call the Internet ecosystem. The difference between the days of the telegraph and the telephone, and Western Union and Ma Bell - entities that possessed monopolistic power in their heyday - and today's multiplatform and multiscreen broadband Internet environment is akin to the difference between carrier pigeons and rocket ships. …

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