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FCC?s Wheeler: We are the people?s representatives

03 Dec, 2013

In his first major speech as FCC Chair, Tom Wheeler laid out his vision for the agency: to protect the public interest in what he calls the fourth great network revolution – the marriage of computing and connectivity. (The earlier three were the printing press, the railroad, and the telegraph/telephone.)  “The public has the right to be represented as we go through the transition that is the fourth network revolution.”

The FCC, he noted, has two major responsibilities: first, to facilitate technological change to ensure world-class communications networks; and second, to make sure that these networks are accessible to all Americans.

Wheeler uses a “see-saw rule” to determine where regulatory intervention is needed. When competition is high, regulation can be low. But where markets fail or network externalities are strong, the FCC must step in.

Wheeler touched on the major issues before the FCC in the coming period.

Spectrum. A key goal, he said, is making sure that multiple carriers have access to airwaves needed to operate their networks. He referenced the U.S. Department of Justice filing last April, in which, “the importance of such competition was reinforced.” Wheeler chose his words carefully. He indicated support for spectrum auction rules that promote competition, not specific competitors.

Unlocking Cell Phones. Wheeler called on wireless carriers to agree voluntarily to open their phones. Absent such action, he promised regulatory intervention.

Net Neutrality. Wheeler affirmed his support for the FCC’s Open Internet rules, which are currently under challenge in court.

Universal Service and E-Rate Reform. Wheeler strongly endorsed FCC action to modernize these programs to bring broadband to all Americans, including U.S. schools and people with disabilities.

Network Compact. Wheeler proposed a Network Compact that protects the basic rights of consumers and the basic responsibilities of network operators.” It’s based on three principles:

Accessibility. “There is,” he said, “nothing more fundamental to the FCC’s work than ensuring every American has access to our wired and wireless networks.” He pointed out that “having a significant percentage of Americans bypassed by the Internet revolution is unacceptable. We can’t maximize economic growth and job creation when 20 percent of our population is cut off from the digital economy at home... In addition, 15 million Americans live in areas where they can’t get wireline broadband, even if they
wanted it.”

Interconnection. We “must assure the Internet exists as a collection of open, interconnected facilities.”

Public Safety. “That means not only assuring that 911 calls go through, but also ensuring that our networks are secure from cyber threats.”

Wheeler announced he has published a free eBook, available online at the FCC website and elsewhere, entitled Net Effects: The Past, Present and Future Impact of our Networks. In it, he sets out a history of networks concluding with “the need for expeditious, fact-based policymaking.”

Wheeler’s speech makes clear that under his watch, the FCC will aim to support rules that protect consumers and workers as it promotes policies that encourage job-creating investment during the technology transition. Speed Matters expects him to live up to these lofty and important goals.

Remarks of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at The Ohio State University (FCC, Dec. 2, 2013)

Net Effects: The Past, Present and Future Impact of our Networks
(Tom Wheeler, FCC, Nov. 26, 2013)

New F.C.C. Chief Promises He Will Protect Competition
(NY Times, Dec. 3, 2013)

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