Skip to main content

Wheeler Assigns Report On Possible FCC Reforms

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has hit the ground running, telling staffers he has put special council Diane Cornell in charge of a "temporary" — emphasis Wheeler's — working group to review proposals by commissioners, staffers, Congress and others to reform FCC regulatory processes. He says he wants a report on his desk before the end of the year.

He says he will also "crowdsource" staffers for more input on regulations that are past their prime and procedures that need improving. Wheeler suggested he would be doing some managing by walking around saying "the action is out here, not within the walls of the Chairman's office."

The new chairman addressed staffers in the Commission meeting room Nov. 5, thanking acting chair Mignon Clyburn for her leadership, introducing his new team, and offering his vision for the agency, according to an FCC official. He also blogged about his FCC, which included signaling the reg review.

His vision centered on economic growth, the value of networks (that would be broadband networks) and the importance of security and public safety.

In a blog post, Wheeler expanded on that vision. [He also dropped the tidbit that he and Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly were in the same D.C. jury pool while both awaited confirmation].

"These are important days in determining the future of our networks and their effect on our commerce and our culture," said Wheeler. "As a history buff, I love John Gardner's observation, 'History doesn't look like history when you're living it.'"

Wheeler said that his FCC would stand for maintaining the "historic compact between networks and users" which appeared to be a signal that the IP transition would not be a reg-free zone. "A change in technology may occasion a review of the rules, but it does not change the rights of users or the responsibilities of networks."

Wheeler focused on broadband in his blog.

"I believe we are the 'Optimism Agency' of the Federal government," he said. "The connective technology that will define the 21st century flows through the FCC. In so many ways our new networks are integral to challenges as diverse as education, energy, and health care. The 21st century economy begins here."

More from the Wheeler blog is excerpted below:

"There is no doubt that today we are living history in the midst of the fourth great network revolution.  Gutenberg's printing press enabled the original information revolution; the railroad was the first high-speed network; and the instantaneous electronic transmissions of the telegraph opened the door to everything from broadcasting to the telephone. Each of these network revolutions redefined mankind's path forward.

"What makes our revolution different from its predecessors, however, is the speed with which it has developed and the velocity with which it continues to evolve. When the President nominated me I was working on a book about the great network revolutions of history. I know from those histories that network revolutions are not easy, that they produce upheaval, dislocation, fear and concern. Yet at the same time, the new networks became the underpinning of everything from the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution.  It is amidst just that sort of upheaval that we have the responsibility of assuring that innovation and technology advance — indeed, advance with speed — while at the same time preserving the basic covenant between networks and those whom they connect.

"All of the new networks of history created upheaval as incumbents struggled to adapt while maintaining their position, insurgents fought for their rightful place, and the people had to adapt to a changing world. It is an historical reality that network change produces tempers that boil, voices that rise, and cries of alarm.

"I have just hung in my office an 1839 poster from Philadelphia in which those who were against the interconnection of two rail lines warned, "Mothers Look Out for Your Children," and "Philadelphians your rights are being invaded." All of this, the poster proclaimed, was in "Violation of the Law." I hung the poster as a reminder that the challenges and the passions with which we deal are neither unique nor new.

"Yet it is precisely in the midst of such change that our job as representatives of the people makes the work of this agency even more important. The challenge America faces, and that this agency faces, is to secure the future through the actions of the present — by encouraging investment and innovation; preserving competitive opportunities; protecting consumers; and assuring the opportunities of the new network extend to all.

"We'll have more to say about the role of the FCC in the changing communications landscape in the coming weeks and months, I'm sure. Suffice it to say, that as networks change, those charged with the responsibility of overseeing those networks must also evolve. Congress instructed us to act in the "public interest, convenience and necessity." I look forward to working with the Congress and to carrying out those instructions.

"During my confirmation hearing I described myself as 'an unabashed supporter of competition because competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.' Yet we all know that competition does not always flourish by itself; it must be supported and protected if its benefits are to be enjoyed. This agency is a pro-competition agency."