CES 2016: Wheeler: Dingo Helped Drive Title II Interest

Complete Coverage: CES 2016

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler gave HBO's John Oliver credit for helping drive consumer interest and comment on new network neutrality rules.

In a CES Show conversation with Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, Wednesday, Wheeler said Oliver's impact on him was more than educating him on what a dingo was. Oliver likened putting former cable and telco lobbyist Wheeler in charge of regulating those industries and setting Internet openness policy to hiring a dingo for a babysitter.

Wheeler said Oliver's satirical jab got people interested in an issue with "real, live consumer impact," taking the ultimate in arcane—Title II reclassification of the Internet—and making it into something that millions of people weighed in on, adding that he wished other arcane issues got more attention, including dealing with set-top boxes and broadband subsidy (Lifeline) reform.

On a more serious note, Wheeler defended the process that produced the new net neutrality rules. He said complaints about that process, which included not providing enough notice of its change to Title II—complaints that appeared to get some purchase in oral arguments on challenges to those rules—were the last refuge of those who don't like a decision. He said he was quite comfortable that the decision was fact-based and would be upheld.

Wheeler did not shy away from the broadband privacy authority that Title II reclassification gave the FCC, though he said that does not extend to edge providers, which remains the province of the Federal Trade Commission.

Both Wheeler and FTC chair Edith Ramirez, who followed Wheeler on the CES stage, talked about security, transparency and choice being key to giving consumers control over the collection and use of their personal information.

Shapiro pointed out that the FCC had not had authority over broadband information privacy before the Title II move. Wheeler pointed out that as broadband evolved and expanded as a communication tool, the new Title II-based rules were a way to keep up with that changing tech.

And asked whether asserting new authority over privacy was not in some way a broadband power grab, as it was viewed by some, Wheeler said no. He pointed out that the FCC did have 80 years experience protecting personal information collected by traditional cable providers from their consumers.

The FCC and FTC, which share privacy authority over the Internet—FTC the edge, FCC the networks and their subs—have signed a memorandum of understanding on how to divvy up that authority.

Shapiro pointed out to FCC enforcement actions against AT&T and Cox, who had "gotten into trouble" over privacy.

Wheeler said that if ISPs collect information on their subs, they have a responsibility to hold that securely and in the instances cited that had not been the case.

Wheeler also suggested that he would not have an issue with TV sets collecting data so long as consumers gave their permission. He told Shapiro that he had been on the floor watching a demo of a set that captured information and resold it to advertisers so they could determine how effective their ads were in grabbing eyeballs. He pointed out that consumers must first opt in to the collection, which he said was the responsible approach.

Asked if there were anything he would have done differently during his chairmanship, Wheeler had a short answer: "I don't live in a do-over world."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.