FCC's Wheeler and the 'Common Good' Standard

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the FCC's new network neutrality rules on the Charlie Rose show Tuesday, and appeared to come up with his own variation of the public interest standard--"the common good" standard--to back it up.

He also gave a hint of how the FCC would treat its new broadband privacy oversight under those new Open Internet rules, which redefine Internet access as a common carrier.

Wheeler was talking about being lobbied by the Google's and AT&T's of the world and recognizing, as he said he did from his days as a lobbyist for the cable and cellular industries, that each side is going to say that without their asks, it will be the end of Western civilization.

The regulator's job, he said, is to recognize that and try to find a solution that has the "common good" in it, suggesting that was the public interest, but that that term was vague.

Rose said the common good was also about stimulating innovation, which ISPs have said the rules would not do. Wheeler said the new rules were all about stimulating "permissionless innovation."

Rose quoted National Cable & Telecommunications Association President and former FCC chair Michael Powell on the net neutrality rules as applying old rules to a vibrant new technology. Wheeler agreed it was a vibrant new tech, but not the other part.

He said ISPs had been saying "leave us alone," but the FCC said "wait a minute," we need to make sure consumers have unfettered access to content and content producers have unfettered access to consumers. He said that means making sure ISP's don't block or throttle or create fast and slow lanes. What ISPs are most concerned about is having that referee, he said.

Rose asked Wheeler about the intersection of privacy and cybersecurity.

Wheeler said to look for the FCC within the next several months addressing the question as it relates to those "who provide the networks"--that would be ISPs. He signaled that consumers should know what information was being collected, and have a voice in how it was being used. He called those two baseline rights that individuals ought to have.

Wheeler's conversation with Rose touched on numerous topics, capped by Wheeler's profession that this was the best job he had ever had.

Rose pointed out that John Oliver had been on the show—the comedian had compared Wheeler to a dingo during the net neutrality rule debate--and had questioned whether a former lobbyist should be heading the regulatory agency that oversaw those businesses, and wasn't that an inherent conflict.

Wheeler said he thought it actually gave him an advantage because he understood both business and policy and how the two interact.

Asked about the future of television, he said it was evolving into a broadband video business, but also said he thought broadcasting had a "fine future" providing local service.

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.