Wheeler Outlines His Plan

FCC Chief Expands on Regulatory View

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler last week outlined a broadband-centric vision for the FCC and said the rights of users and responsibilities of networks would not change even as technology does, though the same may not hold for all the regulations that applied to the old order.

Wheeler addressed a standing-room crowd of FCC staffers Nov. 4 after being sworn in as chair by acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn earlier in the day — Clyburn literally handed a baton to Wheeler to mark the transition.

He followed that up with a blog post — he was a frequent blogger on mobile media issues while a venture capitalist — outlining his general vision. (To read the blog, visit multichannel.com/Nov11.)

He said the three prisms through which he would view decisions were promoting growth, maintaining the historic “compact” between networks and users, and making sure those networks “work for everyone.”

As he prepares to tackle the big issues of the day — auctions, the IP transition, broadband deployment and more — Wheeler withheld views on specific cases, but expanded on his FCC regulatory world view.

MCN:You came in with a well-defined approach to your job. What will drive your decisions?

Tom Wheeler: I will make decisions based on the information presented and the facts in a particular situation, but here are three general prisms that I would use to look through.

One is that obviously our goal has to be about economic growth and success, and that the models have changed. The federal government dictating things in great detail to the marketplace is the model that shouldn’t exist anymore. We need to be as nimble as the technology that we deal with, and I think the key to nimbleness is competition. It is the forces of competition that can drive expansion of services, that can drive the reach of networks, that can drive pricing, that can drive the speed and capability of networks. And, therefore, our first job ought to be to promote and protect competition and where it exists to make sure that it continues.

MCN:You said that part of ensuring that growth and innovation was making sure there are “adequate amounts” of spectrum. How do you ensure that?

TW: What was it that Mark Twain said? “I’m putting all my money in land cause I hear they ain’t makin’ it no more. “ That is the reality that we are facing in spectrum. The question is how you get the most efficiency with the fixed amount of spectrum we have. It is a simple question in that regard. You cannot invent it. You cannot grow it. You have to make sure you are using it as efficiently as possible and fortunately technology keeps allowing you to do that.

Broadcasters have been concerned about a “just take it back” philosophy as opposed to take back but also look at the other side of the equation, which is efficiency.

I think that the question on the table is how we use spectrum most efficiently, and it applies across the board. In the past, and in the very near future, I am talking to the Defense Department about this same question.

MCN:And the second prism?

TW: The second prism I have started calling “the network compact.” That there has always been a set of values that govern the relationship between those who build and operate networks and those who use them, and in the new network world — I don’t think it is this specific or that specific thing, but it is: What are the values that all of those things represent? And I would make sure that those values aren’t lost in that transition.

MCN:You said about that second prism that a change in technology does not change the rights and responsibilities of networks and users. That sounds like you could be talking about anything from IP interconnection, to Title II to how you define an MVPD ?

TW: I think they would all fit under there. The question is what decision gets made.

MCN: And you haven’t made any decisions on those yet?

TW: Correct. I go back to what I said about making decisions based on the facts before us.

MCN: And the third prism?

TW: The third thing is that a network by itself is nothing. Unless a train rolls down the track, there is no value. Delivering fiber to your home is of no value unless the fiber does something. So what it is that networks enable is equally important. How do we make sure we are helping networks enable as much as possible?

MCN: For instance?

TW: For instance, high-speed connectivity of schools, so schools can be in the 21st century, or the ability of the disabled community not only to have access to networks but be able to benefit from new kinds of applications that can be helpful.

We ought to ask ourselves, what is it that happens from the network? Not just, is there a network?

Those are the three prisms, and whenever an issue comes up you apply one or more of them.