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Wheeler’s Carrot-And-Stick Approach

RELATED: Wheeler Looks to Make Ownership His Own

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s regulatory style may be revealing itself as a combination of public carrot-and-stick.

Wheeler went public early on with his desire that the wireless industry resolve its remaining issues with voluntary phone unlocking, warning that if they did not, regulation would surely come. They did, and a voluntary agreement was ready for him to unveil at the FCC’s December meeting.

While he has not gone public, according to sources, the chairman has been reaching out to industry players this month with concerns about the quality of closed-captioning.

Accessibility is one of Wheeler’s avowed “network compact” values. Earlier this month, the FCC released its request for comment on whether to start applying the online video captioning mandate to clips as well as full-length programming, with a particular focus on news clips.

But according to sources, in the wake of complaints about the quality of captions— some garbled, some running over into the next scene, some absent altogether— Wheeler has signaled he also wants TV stations and cable operators to do a better job on the programming it is already required to caption, or the FCC may have to step in.

As one Washington cable lobbyist points out, if Wheeler decides the FCC should step in and mandate captioning of online clips, he could roll the quality mandate into the same item if the industry does not commit to doing a better job on quality.