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Wheeler Writes Regulatory Rubric

"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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