Delivering his first policy address since being appointed FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler gave us still another glimpse of what telecom competition policy may look like under a “Wheeler FCC.” The speech picks up on the themes in the Chairman’s newly-published eBook entitled Net Effects: The Past, Present, and Future Impact of Our Networks.
Chairman Wheeler says we are “living in the fourth great network revolution – the marriage of computing and connectivity” and that “the new information networks are the new economy.” He said that as networks evolve, so too should government oversight. Thus, while he is “a rabid believer in the power of the marketplace,” the Chairman acknowledged that “I have seen enough about how markets operate to know that they don’t always, by themselves, solve every problem.”
While stressing that regulating the Internet is “a non-starter” Wheeler clearly sees a role for the FCC is to ensure the Internet exists as a “collection of open, interconnected entities.” He said the FCC would be guided by two guiding principles: competition policy and the network compact.
While the FCC should encourage competition and protect it where it exists, Wheeler also sees a role for the FCC in promoting competition: “Our goal should be to ask how competition can best serve the public – and what, if any, action (including governmental action) is needed to preserve the future of network competition in wired or wireless networks.”
The Chairman also said he has “zero interest in imposing new regulations on a competitive market just because we can.” Instead, he advocates what he calls the “see-saw” rule where, if competition is high, regulation can be low. He said the “see-saw” rule “gives companies control over their regulatory fates based on the degree to which they embrace competition in their markets.” Significantly, he also recognized that “competition does not and will not produce adequate outcomes in the circumstance of significant, persisting market power or of significant negative externalities. Where those occur, the Communications Act and the interests of our society – the public interest – compel us to act and we will.”
Wheeler discusses the network compact, which he describes as the basic rights of consumers and the basic responsibilities of network operators. He identifies three key elements: accessibility, interconnection, and public safety and security.
Regarding interconnection, he said: “The telephone network created an identifiable, singular, end-to-end path for communications. The Internet is far different; it is a collection, not a thing. It is the “Inter” net, short for its original description, “Internetworking,” because multiple open, disparate networks exchange information seamlessly. Absent the interconnection of the parts of the collective we call the Internet there is no Internet.” He went on to say that “[w]hat the Internet does is an activity where policy makers must be judiciously prudent and should not be involved. But assuring the Internet exists as a collection of open, interconnected facilities is a highly appropriate subject.”
To read the full speech, click here.