FCC Chairman: Regulation Is ‘Non-Starter’

Venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, US President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), attends the announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2013.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
Dec. 3, 2013, 3:51 a.m.

The new chair­man of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion prom­ised to pro­mote com­pet­i­tion in the tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions in­dustry and hin­ted that he may lim­it the amount of spec­trum avail­able to AT&T and Ve­r­i­zon for pur­chase in up­com­ing spec­trum auc­tions in his first policy speech Monday at Ohio State Uni­versity.

“Com­pet­i­tion does not and will not pro­duce ad­equate out­comes in the cir­cum­stance of sig­ni­fic­ant, per­sist­ing mar­ket power or of sig­ni­fic­ant neg­at­ive ex­tern­al­it­ies,” Wheel­er said. “Where those oc­cur, the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act and the in­terests of our so­ci­ety — the pub­lic in­terest — com­pel us to act and we will.”

Wheel­er — learn­ing from the Health­Care.gov snafu — also ex­pressed cau­tion in an­noun­cing an auc­tion sched­ule un­til the FCC is con­fid­ent that the auc­tion soft­ware is “up to the task.”

Spec­trum auc­tions will be the top line item on the FCC’s agenda in 2014, as the agency is ex­pec­ted to hold an unique in­cent­ive auc­tion to buy back spec­trum from TV broad­casters and sell it to wire­less pro­viders.

The chair­man’s com­ments on spec­trum auc­tions were part of broad­er re­marks out­lining his philo­sophies for reg­u­la­tion. Wheel­er po­si­tioned him­self as a mod­er­ate, call­ing him­self an “un­abashed” be­liev­er in mar­ket­place com­pet­i­tion who is not afraid to en­act new reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect pub­lic in­terest.

“Reg­u­lat­ing the In­ter­net is a non­starter,” Wheel­er said. “As­sur­ing that the In­ter­net ex­ists, however, as a col­lec­tion of open, in­ter­con­nec­ted en­tit­ies is an ap­pro­pri­ate activ­ity for the people’s rep­res­ent­at­ives.”

He also touched on oth­er top­ics that have come up dur­ing his first month in of­fice, such as cell-phone un­lock­ing and cel­lu­lar use on air­planes. Wheel­er was sur­prised by the out­cry in re­sponse to his pro­pos­al to lift the ban on cel­lu­lar lift on air­planes.

Wheel­er, an “in­trep­id his­tory buff”, also pub­lished a free e-book Monday that ex­plores the his­tory of net­work re­volu­tions in the U.S. The book was the found­a­tion for his first speech.

Wheel­er’s speech is ex­pec­ted to be the first of many over the next couple of months.

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