Skip to main content

Wheeler: We Picked Up Net Neutrality 'Can' And Ran With It

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said Wednesday that he did not think his plan to restore the FCC network neutrality rules was putting off the issue, and put in a plug for municipal broadband as a competitor.

That came in a press conference Feb. 20 following the FCC's monthly meeting.

Asked by Politico's Brooks Boliek whether his network neutrality plan was just "kicking the can down the road a little further," Wheeler bristled a bit. "This is a month after the decision. There is going to be a rulemaking this spring. I don't think we kicked the can. I think we picked it up and we're running down the road [that would be Route 706] in the direction the court suggested."

The court affirmed that the FCC had authority to regulate broadband under Sec. 706 of the Communications Act, which empowers the FCC to effect the reasonable and timely deployment of advanced telecommunications to all Americans.

Wheeler this week said the FCC would find a way to restore the antiblocking and nondiscrimination portions of its Open Internet order, which a D.C. federal appeals court threw out last month.

Moving on to merger issues, Wheeler conceded that both the FCC and the Justice Department had indicated they were skeptical about the proposed Sprint-T-Mobile deal, but would not similarly handicap the prospects of the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, in part because he had not been asked to by the parties.

Wheeler said that while Sprint and T-Mobile approached the commission to ask what it thought of that merger, Comcast did not. "I am in a position right now of sitting and waiting for Comcast to file their requisite documents so we can begin our consideration," he said, adding that it would be a "full, fair and open hearing."

Comcast executive VP David Cohen had made the point to reporters when the deal was announced that, unlike some other unnamed parties, Comcast had not sought the FCC's advice on its merger prospects beforehand.

Wheeler would not comment on whether Comcast's decision to divest 3 million TWC subs to keep the total under the FCC's old 30% sub cap—which has been thrown out by the courts—made the deal any more palatable.

"I think that we wait to see what they propose," he said. "This obviously will be one of the topics on the table. But I am not prepared to hypothesize at this time."

Asked whether he thought the broadband marketplace was competitive, Wheeler said "I think it needs to be continually growing in competition. He reiterated his "competition, competition, competition" mantra, and said it should be full and vibrant and "there can always be more."

On that broadband competition topic, Wheeler brought up unprompted the portion of his network neutrality restoration blueprint dealing with promoting municipal broadband competition.

He said that when Google comes in and says it wants to build more fiber. "That is a great idea." Ditto an Australian company that manages airports around the world that comes in and says they want to build fiber for municipalities in Utah.

But asked how the FCC would specifically encourage that kind of competition, Wheeler deferred. "We're looking at what is the right structure to move forward on that," and it would be clearer when the FCC issues its network neutrality item in the spring.