CES 2016: Wheeler: Dingo Helped Drive Title II Interest

Says FCC’s Rulemaking Process Will Pass Court Muster

CES 2016: Complete Coverage

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler gave HBO comedian John Oliver credit for helping drive consumer interest and comment on new network neutrality rules.

Wheeler, during an International CES conversation with Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro on Wednesday, Wheeler said Oliver's impact on him was more than educating him on what a dingo was. On the May 31 episode of HBO’s comedy series Last Week Tonight, Oliver likened putting former cable and telco lobbyist Wheeler in charge of regulating those industries and setting Internet openness policy to hiring a dingo to be a babysitter.

Wheeler said Oliver's satirical jab got people interested in an issue with "real, live consumer impact," taking the ultimate in arcane — Title II reclassification of the Internet — and making it into something that millions of people weighed in on, adding that he wished other arcane issues got more attention, including dealing with set-top boxes and broadband subsidy (Lifeline) reform.

On a more serious note, Wheeler defended the process that produced the new net neutrality rules. He said complaints about that process, which included not providing enough notice of its change to Title II — complaints that appeared to get some purchase in oral arguments on challenges to those rules — were the last refuge of those who dislike a decision. Wheeler said he was quite comfortable that the decision was fact-based and would be upheld.

Wheeler did not shy away from the broadband privacy authority that Title II reclassification gave the FCC, though he said that does not extend to edge providers, which remains the province of the Federal Trade Commission.

Both Wheeler and FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez, who followed Wheeler on the CES stage, talked about security, transparency and choice being key to giving consumers control over the collection and use of their personal information.

Shapiro pointed out that the FCC had not had authority over broadband information privacy before the Title II move. Wheeler pointed out that as broadband evolved and expanded as a communication tool, the new Title II-based rules were a way to keep up with that changing tech.

And asked whether asserting new authority over privacy was not in some way a broadband power grab, as it was viewed by some.

Wheeler said no. He pointed out that the FCC did have 80 years experience protecting personal information collected by traditional cable providers from their consumers.

The FCC and FTC, which share privacy authority over the Internet — FTC the over the edge and the FCC over the networks and their subscribers — have signed a memorandum of understanding on how to divvy up that authority.

Shapiro made note of FCC enforcement actions against AT&T and Cox Communications, which had "gotten into trouble" over privacy.

Wheeler said that if Internet-service provider collect information on their subscribers, they have a responsibility to hold that data securely. In the instances cited, that had not been the case, he said.

Wheeler also suggested that he would not have an issue with data collection via TV sets, as long as consumers could give their permission. He told Shapiro he had watched a show-floor demonstration of a set that captured information and resold it to advertisers so they could determine how effective their ads were in grabbing eyeballs. He pointed out that consumers must first opt in to the collection, which he said was the responsible approach.

Asked if there was anything he would have done differently during his chairmanship, Wheeler had a short answer: "I dont live in a do-over world."