Wheeler Walks Line on Net Neutrality

New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is pledging to be pro-competition and to walk that fine line between regulating the Internet and protecting Net Neutrality.

In his first major policy speech Monday in Columbus, Ohio, Wheeler said that "regulating the Internet is a non-starter," but also expressed firm support for maintaining open access to all lawful content and for protecting interconnection of networks comprising the Internet to promote competition.

"What the Internet does is an activity where policy makers must be judiciously prudent and should not be involved," Wheeler said to an audience at his alma mater, Ohio State. "But assuring the Internet exists as a collection of open, interconnected facilities is a highly appropriate subject."

Of course, the real questions will be how the FCC chooses to protect interconnection, and whether it will implement new Net Neutrality rules if the current regs are knocked down in court. Wheeler wasn't offering details in the speech. He did, however, issue an e-book, Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks, which can be downloaded here. (See FCC VoIP Ruling Bound to Disappoint Someone and Bye Bye Net Neutrality?)

Wheeler reiterated his support for unlocking cellphones, saying consumers who keep up their end of the bargain by buying the phone should be able to take it with them to whatever carrier they choose. (See FCC: Unlock or We Regulate.)

Wheeler's speech, which can be viewed here, was also clearly aimed at blunting critics who are expecting a highly active Democratic FCC, promising to not interfere where competition is working, because competitive markets are the best option for consumers. But he also pledged to deliver additional access to spectrum for wireless network operators and boost broadband penetration above the current 80% level to promote economic development and create broadband options for those who don't today have access to wireline broadband services.

Those were goals of his predecessor as well, and there is already healthy skepticism as to whether Wheeler can succeed where Julius Genachowski didn't, at least not entirely.

In an unscientific poll of Light Reading's audience, 44% answered "Tom Who?" to the question of whether they were grateful to have Wheeler at the helm of the FCC, while another 18% said it doesn’t really matter who chairs the FCC. Only 13% said they were grateful to see the former leader of both the cellular and the cable industry associations tapped to run the top US regulatory body.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Carol Wilson 12/3/2013 | 4:10:02 PM
Re: Tommy Boy Your math was better than mine, but then I was a J-major, so probably took many of the same classes as you and avoided advanced math.
RitchBlasi 12/3/2013 | 4:08:18 PM
Tommy Boy You are right about the niumbers - households and individuals with smartphones.  Maybe he figures households have 4-5 phones per - 56% of people have smartphones...equates to 10% households.  How's that for quick math?  I told you I'm not good with numbers.  What do you expect from a former PR guy.
Carol Wilson 12/3/2013 | 3:59:40 PM
Re: Broadband penetration Ritch, as I understand it, the 70% number Wheeler cited is households with wireline  broadband, and he added the extra 10% representing people with smartphones but not broadband.

You and I and all the other folks with multiple connections and devices only count once...or less than once, since he may be counting households.

Actually, the more I think about this, the more the numbers start to confuse me.
RitchBlasi 12/3/2013 | 3:47:54 PM
Broadband penetration I also question the numbers out there.  I think I read something from PEW Research that said 56% of Americans have a smartphone.  And we have to then ASSume that every smartphone has access to 3G/4G mobile broadband (let's not count tablets and laptops that also have connections...i.e. me, a phone, tablet and laptop all on mobile broadband) -- can someone explain how that makes the 70% number only go to 80%?  I am not the brightest bulb when it comes to numbers but....

And Net Neutrality - tough issue but one that can be resolved as soon as everyone doesn't think that it has a free pricetag.
Carol Wilson 12/3/2013 | 2:53:05 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler I doubt if Wheeler has an answer for the very rural areas, where wired broadband is concerned. It seems like everyone starts thinking they can solve that problem and then wind up learning they can't because the math just doesn't work. 

I think ultimately wired broadband becomes the pipe into the home gateway device that is supporting all the connected devices in the home. Hardly a vision unique to me. 

I'm guessing the devices in the home are going to change dramatically. And yes, it will be driven by the new digital generation.

brookseven 12/3/2013 | 1:30:10 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler Thanks!

But let me be a bit clearer....

Okay let's say you have a 70% Wireline Penetration rate and 10% more based on Smartphone.  Unless you say that those Smartphone folks CAN"T get Wireline BB then the number doesn't matter.  The FCC can not cause people to buy wireline broadband, it can only make it available.

I thought the idea was to make Wireline BB a basic for all computer owners.  To me the question is "How many computer owners CAN"T get wireline BB?"  For example, my parents have Satellite BB.  They can not get DSL.  They COULD get cable, but choose not to pay the fee to get it hooked up.  The fee comes because they live in a very rural area (10 miles outside the massive metropolis of Schuylerville, NY - population 1197 according to Wikipedia) and the cable company has a distance limit from the road to the home before they charge the homeowner.

I know these are hard things to come up with but I also watch my son's behavior.  He uses the PC for gaming and watching videos.  He can watch videos on his smartphone (linked to our WiFi thankfully).  Without gaming, there is essentially no purpose for the computer.  

I think the long term question for all of this is the long term of the large home screen.  If I go out 25 years, is everyone wearing Google Glasses (or the equivalent) and doing everything mobile - including watching all their video?

Carol Wilson 12/3/2013 | 1:05:53 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler Actually I think it was a cumulative number - 70% have wireline broadband and if you add in folks that are smartphone-only, it hits 80% total broadband penetration. 

Obviously a lot of folks have both. 
brookseven 12/3/2013 | 12:51:55 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler Carol,

I was talking about an analyst that was reported on this site...not Wheeler.  May have to take the time to look for it.

It seems odd that there is better BB Wireless coverage than wireline...by 10%.


Carol Wilson 12/3/2013 | 12:29:38 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler Wheeler said the current broadband adoption rate  is 70% on wireline connections and 80% if you add smartphones. And he says 15 million people can't get wireline broadband. 


brookseven 12/3/2013 | 12:12:59 PM
Re: Whither Wheeler Wait, I thought a couple of weeks ago we said that BB penetration was about equal to computer penetration.  

So, can we have a view to how many computer owners have no access to ANY wireline or cable BB?  Is it 7 or 7M?


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