Wheeler to NATOA: The Broadband Speed Times Need A Changin'

Suggests Part of that Change Includes Resisting Effort to Limit Municipal Broadband

Channeling Bob Dylan, FCC Chairman suggested Wednesday that the country needed to start swimming together toward robust broadband or it will sink like a low-speed stone.

He was speaking to the annual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officer and Advisors Wednesday (Oct. 1) in St. Paul Minn.

He reiterated that speed is of the essence. "Table stakes for the 21st century is 25 Mbps," he said, "and winning the game means that all consumers can get at least 100 Mbps – and more."

One way to do that, he said, was by combatting the forces he suggested were undercutting that effort. He did not say incumbent commercial ISPs, but he certainly appeared to be referencing, in part, the pushback on municipal WiFi by state legislatures and the incumbents he has said are working to limit competition.

"NATOA and the FCC are swimming to the common goal of making sure that communities across America – large and small – have access to robust broadband networks that deliver the benefits of broadband connectivity to all citizens," he told the audience. "But you may have noticed that not everyone is swimming alongside that effort. There are those who seek to block the competitive forces that can produce faster, cheaper, better broadband; those who make it difficult to build out the infrastructure necessary for the broadband future; and those with which both you, and we have to contend that would use changes in technology as an excuse to sidestep the responsibilities network operators have always had to their users.

Later in the speech, he referenced Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, which have petitioned the FCC to preempt state laws they say limit broadband buildouts, something the Wheeler has suggested the FCC should use its power to do.

"As you know, two communities – Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN – have petitioned the FCC to preempt the laws enacted by state legislatures that prohibit them from expanding their community-owned broadband networks," he said. "There are currently laws in 19 states that impose restrictions of one kind of another on such local decision-making."

But since the petitions are currently in front of the commission, he did not weigh in on them. "We will make our decision on those petitions on the record and on the merits," he said, adding: "I am afraid that is all I can say about this today," to a collective "awww" from a crowd ready for some municipal broadband red meat. (Wheeler had gotten applause from the audience when his strong support for municipal broadband was cited in the speech introduction.)

Wheeler said that while competition is the best way to achieve faster, ubiquitous broadband, but that three quarters of American homes have no competitive choice at 25 Mbps, and 20% with no option at that speed.

Wheeler drew applause when he briefly touched on network neutrality rules.

"Openness is the key to networks delivering on their possibilities," he said. "Blocking, discriminating, or degrading service for economic gain is contrary to the promise of broadband networks. Yet we have no protections in place to assure that kind of openness. We must have rules that will establish that an open Internet is the sine qua non of broadband."

Wheeler also signaled that he thought access and interconnection regs that apply to traditional analog networks should transfer to IP delivery.

"There are those who argue that the move from analog networks to IP networks changes these principles," he said. "They are wrong. The form these responsibilities take may change in an IP world, but the principles do not – and should never – go away."

The chairman also put in a plug for more video choices online, a plug that could almost extend to the proposal being worked on at the FCC to give linear over-the-top video providers access rights to must-have programming.

“We’ve been hearing a lot lately that access to video is necessary for broadband deployment because consumers increasingly watch video online and that translates into more demand for video-quality broadband. So if we can make it easier for video choices to come to communities, we should be able to incent more broadband competition as a result. “