FCC Chairman Wheeler Hints at Longterm Net Neutrality Plan at NAB

Published: 2015-04-20

At the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, Nevada, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke to attendees about Net Neutrality, the FCC’s plans to update their business practices and the pending Spectrum Incentive Auction.

For those unfamiliar with the Net Neutrality regulations and what they mean to the AV industry, you can catch yourself up here.

In regards to updating the business practices of the FCC, it was pretty startling to find out that there hasn’t been an update to how field offices operate in 20 years. Moving to digital practices and shifting personnel in order to be more effective in the regions requiring added support to battle piracy are some of the key reasons for these upcoming changes.

It was the Incentive Auction, though, that was of most interest for the audience, and where Chairman Wheeler spent the majority of his keynote presentation. A quick background of the Incentive Auction is that the FCC is working with broadcast networks to allow for the voluntary relinquishing of spectrum usage rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds from the auction.

More NAB 2015 Coverage.

As AV professionals, we are all well aware of the spectrum auctions that the FCC has been conducting where more frequencies in the wireless spectrum are being purchased by wireless providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon) to accommodate the increased needs for the transmission of both voice and, more importantly, data.

The Incentive Auction is a plan that has been in the works since the 2010 National Broadband Plan with significant strides being taken during 2014 where rules for how the auction will take place and the opportunity for public comment came into play. Wheeler stated that in the Fall of 2015 the auctions would finally begin.

Chairman Wheeler’s background is well known to be based in the broadcasting world. If one were to examine how the sequence of the Incentive Auctions played out in conjunction with the Net Neutrality rules, could it be possible that one influenced the other?

While the examination of the Net Neutrality rules has been taken from all sides in how it will affect the ability of people to access information, most groups have been looking at it from the perspective of protecting equal rights to information for all people. The initial concept of paid prioritization had many people extraordinarily upset due to the fact that it was believed that plan would limit the ability of newer companies and technological startups to be able to be competitive with the larger firms already in existence.

But let’s look at it from a completely different angle. The FCC has been continually auctioning off spectrum blocks in order to provide more access to frequencies for the mobile service providers. Eventually, the “available” spectrum reached the point of becoming so congested that it’s difficult to find space for the wireless carriers and the broadcasters to co-exist. As the AV community knows, our technology was pushed out of the 700 MHz spectrum and now there’s even fear that we’re going to lose the 600 MHz range as well.

Related: What’s Missing in 313 Pages of Net Neutrality Rules?

The FCC took it upon itself to help all those wireless providers and broadcasters attempting to use the airwaves to find space to all coexist. Now that we’ve again reached a point where the wireless frequencies are no longer available for continued expansion to support the increased use of wireless technology, we are looking to the broadcasting community to volunteer to relinquish usage rights so that the wireless carriers can continue to expand their offerings.

In the recently passed Net Neutrality rulings the FCC made a sly move that seemed to be mostly considered an afterthought by much of the press when it came out that the Open Internet rules that applied to the way that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be required to treat most legal content equally will also apply to the wireless data carriers as well. This also meant no more data throttling—an exciting prospect for just about every smartphone user!

Wheeler and the FCC are clearly paving the way to allow for as much access to the wireless spectrum as possible for the mobile carriers. This might be due to a belief that if this is the direction information is being absorbed by the public, pushing the FCC to try and get out in front and protect the availability for consumers.

While Wheeler said in his keynote that “the real American pastime is watching TV,” he clearly is on board with the trends as to how individuals will receive their news, information, and entertainment moving forward.

While it’s hard to take issue with the fact that Wheeler and the FCC are setting up the wireless carriers for success in the future, it’s highly apparent that there has been such a singular focus in where things are going that the current way the networks are used has not been taken into account. Other industries that utilize the network connections for transmission and communications purposes are being left by the wayside or forced to adapt to support this vision.

Related: Net Neutrality and the New Reality of Who Might Get Sued

Yes, it’s true that many people today get the majority of their information while surfing the internet over their mobile carrier connections. However, supporting that mobile carrier access should not dictate how the hard wired network connections are governed and regulated. Maybe this correlation is exceptionally off base, but exploring Wheeler’s history with the broadcast and broadband industries, it’s hard to believe that there was consideration paid for those outside of his realm of familiarity.

To base the regulation for how all network information transmissions are governed on the use of mobile networks ignores how individuals and corporations alike put those networks to work for them every day. Wheeler continually stated that his implementation of a light touch version of Title II worked so well for the mobile providers that applying it to the Open Internet rules governing the ISPs was the logical way to go.

The only problem with that logic is that the two industries do not function in the same way, have the same goals, and utilize their networks for completely different things.

Perhaps Wheeler set up the pieces for the Open Internet regulations without anyone connecting that it was tied to the Incentive Auction. Or perhaps this is just a paranoid connection looking to understand how we’ve reached where we are. Either way, it’s clear that Tom Wheeler is putting the wireless providers at the pinnacle of his efforts and the rest of us will have to live with the end results, no matter the consequences.

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