Wheeler: FCC Must Accelerate IP Transition

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC's goal in launching IP transition trials was to accelerate that transition, not just manage it.

In a talk at a National Journal IP transition event in Washington, Wheeler said that unlike the rail revolution, where trains were hauling coal but were ancillary to coal production, the broadband network, the "hauling" of that information, is the economy. "It is not ancillary."

Wheeler said the FCC can't afford to "sit around and suck eggs" as it did when initially contemplating using spectrum for wireless, or there will be "incredibly adverse consequences."

Wheeler said that if the FCC drags its feet that would be an unsuccessful transition, and if the result reduced competition, that would also be an unsuccessful transition.

Success for Wheeler is a consumer-focused migration that preserves competition, innovation and public safety. He said the tests were all about gauging the impact of transition on those values and how the IP transition can stoke the economy and insure everyone is on the train, rural and urban (and the disabled). "We have an incredibly important responsibility to preserve access [to IP networks] by people with disabilities," Wheeler said. He said the IP trial "cohort" needs to look like "all of America."

Asked what lessons from the DTV transition in 2009 could be applied to the IP transition, Wheeler pointed out he had been the one advising then candidate Obama on that transition and then needed to push back the date.

He said he came to that conclusion in part because of the dire economic straight of the country at the time. The thought, he said, was that if the government did not get the transition right, "how in the world will we be trusted to get the mega issues right?"

What he said he learned from the DTV transition to apply to the IP transition was that the key was "information, information, information." It is all about consumers understanding what is going on and being equipped to deal with it, which includes a place to go to ask questions and get answers.

He also said the transition must be consumer, not tech-centric. The third lesson: "You get one shot," which he called a pretty sobering thought.

He said the trials were a way to collect the information to help put together that one shot.

While the IP transition is primarily about transitioning voice from traditional circuit-switched networks to IP, video is also implicated because of the need for interconnection and making sure there is competition for those interconnecting, or "peering" networks.

"In order to have choice and competition in services, it helps to have choice and competition in the networks," he said. "You can't have an opportunity economy without opportunity networks."

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.