Light Reading

Wheeler Writes Regulatory Rubric

Mari Silbey

"You cannot have an open economy if you don't have an open Internet," said Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler at the annual ACA Summit in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Speaking to the American Cable Association (ACA) , an organization representing independent cable operators, Wheeler was emphatic about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's authority to regulate the Internet and to ensure that it remains a democratizing force.

Reiterating his position on a recent federal appeals court decision that struck down net neutrality rules but maintained the FCC's right to govern the Internet, Wheeler declared, "I view that as an invitation to action by the court." (See Net Neutrality Fight Not Over.)

However, while Wheeler was adamant about maintaining Internet fairness, he also stated that he wasn't looking to be revolutionary. Peering, for example, isn't on his regulatory agenda, although he added that that's "not to say we don't have jurisdiction over peering, but I think it's related to, but not the same as, the open Internet."

And Wheeler was clear that he believes the FCC needs to take action based on "data-driven conclusions," not on anecdotes and what-if scenarios.

Wheeler said he sees the issues facing the FCC through three prisms of thought. First, every issue -- whether the agency is looking at open Internet policies, broadcast incentive auctions, the IP transition, or anything else -- needs to be evaluated according to the impact on economic growth. Wheeler compared broadband infrastructure to railroads in the past, but explained the difference by saying, "What's happening now is the networks are the economy. They're not ancillary. They're primary."

Second, Wheeler said that with each issue, the FCC has to consider what he calls the "network compact" between the people who build networks and those who use them. The five issues under that principle include examination of access, interconnection, consumer protection, public safety, and national security.

Finally, Wheeler said the agency needs to keep in mind what broadband networks are enabling. For example he noted, "If we are not providing a 21st century education for our students which is defined by broadband connectivity, shame on us."

Wheeler also emphasized in his address the ongoing importance of market competition. On that front, the chairman will face an early challenge in the Commission's review of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The potential acquisition is one of many issues that will put Chairman Wheeler's regulatory rubric to the test. (See Comcast-TWC Deal: Playing All the Numbers.)

The world will be watching.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/4/2014 | 7:12:12 PM
Re: Transparency
KBode - " ... every time I hear someone like Wheeler proclaim that they need to spend another 8-14 months studying an issue -- I wonder what the agency has been doing all these years?"

Indeed, net neutrality dates back to literally 1860, and started to be applied to the Internet in 2003. Where has Wheeler been?
sam masud
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/4/2014 | 2:15:51 PM
Re: Transparency
Not sure how we can have an open Internet if peering is not part of the discussion. Just look at how Comcast was able to muscle out Cogent when it came to streaming Netflix.

1200-lbs gorillas like Comcast could muscle out all small providers like Cogent by cutting deals with the content companies. Then they really would have us by the throat.

User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 8:58:32 PM
Re: Transparency
I agree with that too. Greater transparency is  key. The big question is how do the feds mke it happen? What's the best way toregulate that?
User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 1:44:56 PM
Re: Transparency
I firmly agree on the transparency front. Peering deals becoming too important to keep entirely hidden from view.
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 1:03:22 PM
I'm not keen on government rushing to regulation as a fix without understanding the issues, but every time I hear someone like Wheeler proclaim that they need to spend another 8-14 months studying an issue -- I wonder what the agency has been doing all these years?

At the very least these peering deals are going to need greater transparency, or you ARE going to start seeing them increasingly abused for a particular company's business interests. Knowing both companies better than I know myself it's certainly something that's on AT&T and Verizon's agenda.
User Rank: Lightning
4/3/2014 | 12:25:19 PM
He is fooling himself or someone else with 706 talk
The FCC does not have authority over peering.  it is the private exchange of informatoin among information service providers, not telecom.  There has to be a content-carriage boundary, and the Internet only exists because it is content, not carriage.  The  DC Circuit overturned most of Part 8 because it tried to impose common carriage rules on non-common-carriage services.

The Court's limited acceptance of 706 was based on a lie. The FCC in 2010 presented the Court with legislative history, a Senate Report, on what 706 meant, and the Court accepted it. But the submitted Report described the Senate draft that was NOT passed by the conference committee and signed into law.  The enabling clauses it cited were removed.  That creates a nice avenue of appeal if he tries 706 again.

The Court did say that the Computer II rules, which the FCC revoked in 2005, leading to the whole NN fiasco, were obvious and legal. So the FCC could just say that facility owners have to make the raw bit pipes (telecom) available on the same terms they use them for their own Internet services.  That would fix everything.  But it would hurt Randy, Lowell, and Brian's fee-fees.  They and Tom seem to think that common carriage is so T.C. (twentieth century).  So they're constructing a complex house of cards to get around a simple foundational fix that worked.
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