FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes the impact of railroad and telegraph networks in the 19th century still outweighs that of the Internet in today's society. However, he also believes that's about to change.
"My conviction is that we are on the cusp of when our broadband networks will prove even more transformative than the networks of the 19th century," said Wheeler in a speech at the Brookings Institution. "That belief is based upon this new fact: broadband networks are new in a new way. That new way is the evolution from hardware-based networks to ones that are software-based with the result that changes the nature of networks."
The purpose of Wheeler's statement was twofold. First, he used the coming wave of network virtualization to illustrate the opportunities for innovation ahead. Virtualization, he noted, will extend network capabilities at the same time that network expansion and operating costs decrease. (See Building Momentum for the New IP and Will Investing in SDN & NFV Be Worth It?)
Second, he argued that the growing importance of the Internet only makes regulatory oversight more critical. Calling broadband "the most powerful and pervasive network on the planet," Wheeler said it would be "unthinkable" to allow it to exist without oversight.
While opponents to the ruling say that regulating Internet providers as common carriers under Title II will inhibit network investment, Wheeler scoffs at the notion. In his recent address, Wheeler declared that the FCC won't let "imaginary concerns of investment incentives Ö cause us to let up on policies that encourage fast, fair and open broadband."
He cited statements by the CEOs of Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. and Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) that Title II does not discourage investment as evidence for his argument. He also pointed out that continued broadband expansion announcements following implementation of the Open Internet Order only strengthen his case.
With network economics changing thanks to SDN and NFV, and consumer demand for broadband continuing to grow, Wheeler questioned why operators would not make the "rational decision" to invest in their infrastructure. That decision would only make sense, he asserted, if competition didn't exist, or if demand were unnaturally limited. Those conditions are exactly what Wheeler believes the FCC needs to prevent.
"I think we just cannot accept a reality that there's only one provider, and we've got to do everything possible to make sure we're creating an environment for multiple carriers."
As for the FCC's role, Wheeler talked about efforts to stimulate competition and make broadband more readily available. So far these have included working to open up more licensed and unlicensed spectrum, re-evaluating the Lifeline program for inclusion of broadband service, and reforming the E-rate program, which is designed to bring connectivity to schools and libraries. Wheeler also referenced plans for later this year to give over-the-top video providers access to the same content rights as traditional pay-TV companies, and to examine privacy rules in the telecom sector.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading