"I am a happy Comcast subscriber in Washington, D.C.," Wheeler told an audience full of cable executives at an annual industry trade show Wednesday.
"Experience good? Satisfied with your service?" pressed C-SPAN anchor Peter Slen, in the onstage interview.
"I said I'm a happy customer," Wheeler repeated. (He may be one of the few; Comcast tends to rank near the bottom of customer-satisfaction surveys.)
Wheeler lives in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, and owns a second home in Oxford, Md., where he reports he is also a customer of Atlantic Broadband.
But just because Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, picked the nation's biggest cable provider for his home connection, that doesn't mean he's gone easy on the industry. From controversial rules on net neutrality to a fight that's heating up on the future of TV set-top boxes, Wheeler has poked and prodded his former colleagues in the form of new regulations and proposals aimed at forcing them to compete with newer rivals.
Wheeler is the living example of Washington's revolving-door culture, which sees government officials trading in their desks for cushy positions in industry and vice versa. He defends it by pointing to his record, and by pointing to the fact that he knows the industry playbook and is therefore more insulated from the tactics within.
"The way in which lobbying campaigns tend to work these days is, first you set up a scenario of, 'Well, there's too much being done. We're being persecuted,'" said Wheeler. "And then you talk about what I call 'imaginary horribles,' the awful conceptual things that could happen if [regulators] do this or they do that."
It is a ritual that's playing out in real time.
"We find ourselves the target of a relentless regulatory assault," said NCTA chief executive (and former FCC chairman) Michael Powell this week at the conference. "The policy blows we are weathering are not modest regulatory corrections. They have been thundering, tectonic shifts that have crumbled decades of settled law and policy."
NCTA has led the charge in an effort to overturn the FCC's net neutrality rules, which are designed to regulate cable companies like traditional phone carriers when it comes to providing Internet service. Last year it sued the FCC in hopes of convincing a court to strike those rules down. A verdict in that case is imminent, analysts believe.
The cable industry has also threatened to sue the agency again if it moves ahead with rules that would force cable companies to give their channel content freely to set-top box manufacturers. The rules, according to regulators, could create a bevy of new ways to access the channels you pay your cable company for. The industry argues the rules will give it no choice but to make consumers' lives more difficult.
Wheeler said Wednesday he's been studying not only the industry's lobbying tactics of today, but also those practiced by incumbents of the past.
"I've reached one absolute truth," said Wheeler. "Those who try to stop the change always fail. I don't mean most of the time. I mean always failed."