Wheeler Notes Google, Comcast Broadband Investment

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler gave private companies a little love for their broadband investments this week. That came in a speech to New America Foundation's "Digital Equity: Technology and Learning in the Lives of Lower Income Families" conference in Washington.

He talked a lot about reforming the Lifeline program, which the FCC is likely putting the finishing touches on, and put in a plug for the FCC mandate to make sure "consumers in all regions of the country, including low-income consumers" have access to advanced telecommunications services."

"In the not-too-distant future we will vote on new rules," he said, adding: "There is no good reason why the Commission shouldn’t be able to come together to fix this program for the digital age."

Both Democrats and Republicans agree the Lifeline subsidy program needs retooling, but there are disagreements over dollars and ways to prevent waste, fraud and abuse and to encourage robust participation by carriers and consumers alike.

Perhaps tellingly the chairman talked about the important role of community activists in providing digital literacy training and getting the word out on connectivity before he gave a shout-out to Google Fiber and Comcast.

"The private sector plays a hugely important role," he said, "investing tens of billions each year to expand and upgrade their networks continually. Private companies like Alphabet [Google's parent] and Comcast have also stepped up to promote adoption."

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.