What will FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler say next?
That was the question on everyone’s minds Tuesday evening as Wheeler took the Mobile World Congress keynote stage. Having just announced his aggressive Internet rules in the United States, and with rumblings of possible regulatory hijinks afoot in Europe, Wheeler’s talk was timely to put it mildly.
Wheeler brought his regulatory pitch on Title II to a global audience, framing it in the context of facilitating competition and innovation in the United States. When asked whether the new rules were created and passed at the behest of President Obama, Wheeler said he and the Commander In Chief have agreed on Net Neutrality for a long time.
“President Obama and I have both been longtime supporters of net neutrality,” Wheeler said, arguing that the Internet needs a referee. “Do we have a set of rules that says activities should be reasonable and somebody who can throw the flag if they’re not?”
When asked why Wheeler had to go all the way to Title II of the Communications Act in his most recent plans, Wheeler reiterated his claim that his plans are based on a modernized Title II that’s based on rules that governed mobile carriers in the United States. Wheeler’s plans forebear from 27 of the 48 sections of Title II of the Communications Act.
This was the FCC’s third try at open Internet rules. Wheeler explained that he originally preferred to use Section 706 of the Act but was dissuaded from using that as a framework for the new policies.
“The legal test inside Section 706 is what’s called commercially reasonable, and if commercially reasonable is interpreted as what is reasonable for the network provider, rather than what is reasonable for the consumer or the innovators, it’s the wrong solution,” he said.
Again and again, Wheeler returned to his message that the new rules are not as aggressive as opponents are making them out to be. He noted that Sprint, T-Mobile and even Google Fiber have said the rules will not change the way that they invest in their networks.
“This is no more regulating the Internet than the First Amendment regulates free speech in our country,” Wheeler said.
The discussion eventually turned to the whopping $45 billion raised in the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction, which Wheeler admitted surprised him. That said, he panned the suggestion that operators had paid too much for the airwaves.
“I don’t think that any of the CFOs of the companies that were bidding just fell off the turnip truck,” Wheeler said, asserting that careful cost analysis of the spectrum was done and it’s worth the price that was paid for it.
And that $45 billion number could also be an encouraging one for broadcasters looking to participate in the incentive auctions that will be happening next year at this time. ““When you have a $45 billion AWS-3 auction, it tends to get people’s attention,” Wheeler said.
The talk served as a plain view of Wheeler’s philosophy, not one with which everyone agrees. Verizon and AT&T have promised fight the new rules in courts.
Filed Under: Industry regulations