FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Prepared Remarks of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: "A Time to Look Forward: Protecting What Americans Now Enjoy"

We are at a fork in that road. One path leads forward. The other leads back to re-litigating solutions that are demonstrably working. Looking forward is an era of Internet service providers operating responsibly at both the edge and the core network under light touch regulation accompanied by a referee on the field to throw the flag when necessary. Looking backward takes away existing protections and throws into question ISP expansion into edge activities...

If something is deserving of being called net neutrality, it must be Comprehensive, Continuing and Consistent:

  • Comprehensive: Limiting the definition of Net Neutrality to blocking, throttling and paid prioritization is an empty promise if it is not accompanied by the authority to comprehensively protect against the power of broadband gatekeepers, not just some of their conduct.
  • Continuing: We do not know how the Internet will evolve and ISPs will take advantage of new technology. A general conduct rule – which I've analogized to a referee on the field with the ability to throw a flag – captures conduct whether is it new or old, blatant or nuanced with ongoing regulatory oversight and the ability to act where necessary to prevent anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices.
  • Consistent: By this, I mean a consistent standard so that everyone - whether an ISP, a consumer, or an edge provider - knows the yardstick that will measure fairness. Since the time of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 there has been a consistent standard for judging carriers’ practices: are those practices just, reasonable, and not unreasonably discriminatory? These concepts have 130 years of jurisprudence behind them, and they have evolved to effectively address the incentives that network operators may otherwise have to exploit their position to the detriment of consumers or competition.

Passing legislation or adopting regulations without these key provisions and calling it net neutrality would be false advertising....

The activities of the last three-plus years – from ERate, to Lifeline, to rural broadband; from spectrum availability to 5G; from cyber protection to privacy and an open Internet – are the law of the land. We must not forget that the proposals being floated to change what has been done would take away benefits Americans now enjoy. It is time to keep moving forward. This is not the time to retreat and take things away.

Chairman Applauds Reps. Eshoo, Doyle for Their Leadership

I want to congratulate my friend Congresswoman Anna Eshoo on her outstanding legacy as Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. We are in the early stages of a technology-driven network revolution, and Anna’s leadership during this critical stage in history has helped our country navigate the challenges of this new era. From ensuring that networks remain free and open, to advancing the cause of unlicensed spectrum, to advocating on behalf of competitors, Anna has left an indelible mark on US technology policy. It has been an honor to work with her.

Congressman Doyle has been a great leader on the vital telecommunications and tech issues facing our country. The Congressman has led the charge on issues from increasing broadband deployment, to keeping the Internet fast, fair and open, to ensuring that all regions of the country have access to modern and robust public safety communications systems. His constituents, the Committee, and consumers and innovators throughout our country are lucky to have such a strong voice as Congressman Doyle.

Confronting The Challenge Of A New Technological Era Is An American Tradition

[Commentary] The 2016 election has been described as a “change election.” It’s an apt description, but not for the reasons ascribed by political commentators. “Make America Great Again” became a surrogate for “Make me secure again amidst all this change.” Great swaths of the electorate sought stability in a world where everything seemed to be changing. Leading the way to that destabilization has been technological innovation. The digital world has gnawed away at the underpinnings of social and economic stability. From attacking traditional jobs, to ever-increasing prices for once-free television, to teenagers withdrawing into online worlds, technology has driven change that upset the security of tradition.

The story of how Americans responded when faced with previous transformational change is the true measure of American greatness. It is the story of fighting back when change is harmful, yet not allowing the frustration with change to turn into a rejection of its benefits. Most importantly, it is the story of new ideas attacking new problems. Like today, the technology revolution of the 19th century produced a longing for stability. But instead of retreating, Americans pushed forward to build a new security around new concepts. Universal education, employee rights, governmental offsets to abusive market power and other initiatives targeted the new problems. The result was the good old days many now long for. Confronting the challenge of a new technological era is an American tradition. Whether we are as successful at handling our revolution as those who preceded us will be the test of our generation. Dealing with change is not a retreat to what America was but the full-throated embrace of the opportunities created for new ideas directed at the new realities.

Chairman Wheeler's Response to Sen Flake (R-AZ) Regarding Broadband Privacy Rules

On Oct 13, 2016, Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler regarding the FCC's proposed final privacy rules. Ultimately, Sen Flake asked Chairman Wheeler to postpone any final vote on the privacy Order due to differences between the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and the completed Order. Sen Flake expressed concern that the FCC wsa not seeking additonal comment from stakeholders on the proposed broadband privacy rules.

On Dec 14, 2016, Chairman Wheeler responded by citing the FCC's rulemaking process, one that is "designed to give stakeholders and members of the public ample opportunity to engage in a transparent and vigorous discussion." Chairman Wheeler also responded to Sen Flake's concerns about the rules violating the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech, as well as the conern that including web browsing and app usage in the FCC's category of sensitive information is confusing for consumers and could crate an unfair advnatage fo restablished actors in the online-advertising marketplace. Chairman Wheeler noted, "the adopted rules do not prohibit broadband Internet access providers from using or sharing their customers' information -- they simply require broadband Internet access providers to ask for permission first."

Chairman Wheeler's Response to Sen Warner (D-VA) Regarding the Security of the Nations Networks

On Oct 25, 2016, Sen Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to express his concern over the past few months of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. He submitted several questions about DDoS attacks, the security of the nation's networks, and the equipment and devices that attach to the networks to deliver integrated Internet-powered services to citizens and businesses. On Dec 2, 2016, Chairman Wheeler responded by assuring the Open Internet Order affirms ISPs' ability to take measures to protect the network. Chairman Wheeler recalled the efforts the FCC has taken, which has resulted in a rich body of recommendations, including voluntary best practices.

FCC Chairman Wheeler Announces His Plans To Step Down

Chairman Tom Wheeler, after more three years at the helm of the agency, announced he intends to leave the Federal Communications Commission on January 20, 2017. Chairman Wheeler issued the following statement:

“Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

Chairman Wheeler's Response to Sens Re: Stingray Cell Site Simulators

On Oct 7th, several Senators wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler regarding reports about state and local law enforcement's use of "cell site simulators" -- portable surveillance devices that collect cell phone identification and location information by mimicking cellphone towers, also known as "stingrays".

On Nov 23, Chairman Wheeler responded by discussing the conditions of cell site simulator (CSS) equipment authorizations. He wrote, "Each of our CSS equipment authorizations includes two important conditions. First, '[t]he marketing and sale of these devices shall be limited to federal, state, local public safety and law enforcement officials only.' Second, 'State and local law enforcement agencies must advance coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment authorized under this authorization.' Thus, our equipment authorization expressly contemplated that use of the equipment by state and local law enforcement would be under the auspices of the FBI. Notably, the implementation of these conditions does not mention nor did we require a nondisclosure agreement between a purchaser and the FBI."

Chairman Wheeler's Response to Sen Udall (D-NM) Regarding E-Rate Funding

On Oct 3, 2016, Sen Tom Udall (D-NM) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler urging the FCC to, "take additional steps to close the 'homework gap,' the digital divide facing too many students from rural areas and low-income families in New Mexico and across the nation." He called on the FCC to, "use its existing authority to allow E-Rate to support school bus Wi-Fi service in a manner that is both technically feasibly and economically reasonable." Sen Udall added, "If the Commission does not believe that such an initiative is possible under its current authority, I will seek legislation to provide the flexibility to do so."

On Nov 17, Chairman Wheeler responded by discussing the FCC's recent E-rate Modernization Orders, the modernization of the Lifeline program, and recent Wireline Competition Bureau petitions that raise issues regarding eligibility of off-campus use of E-rate supported services for education purposes.

Improving Wireless Coverage in Rural America

At our November monthly meeting, the Federal Communications Commission will consider a series of items that could improve wireless coverage in rural areas across the country. This starts with a proposal to move forward with Phase II of the Mobility Fund. A top priority of Phase II is making sure investments are better targeted to expand and preserve 4G LTE coverage in areas where it would be unavailable absent universal service support, especially in rural areas. I am circulating proposed rules for Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which would leverage this new coverage data, allow for the targeted use of additional data to validate eligibility decisions, and use a competitive “reverse auction” bidding process to allocate more than $470 million in annual support to preserve and extend 4G LTE coverage. The proposal also sets minimum network performance and service requirements to make sure rural residents aren’t stuck with second-rate service. And in recognition of the distinct challenges in bringing connectivity to Tribal lands, the proposal would allocate a portion of the overall support specifically for qualifying Tribal lands and offer bidding credits for Tribally-owned and controlled providers.

Another effective tool to help enhance consumer choice for wireless service in rural areas is “roaming.” To compete in the mobile marketplace, carriers must be able to offer nationwide coverage. Roaming agreements have made it possible for smaller providers – particularly in rural areas – to do business. Furthermore, carriers are increasingly providing voice service using Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), an evolution of voice service that involves transmitting voice calls using streams of data. This proposal would also classify VoLTE under the “just and reasonable” standard as with other voice calls. Our aim is to provide consumers with seamless access to service in all areas of the country, regardless of provider and regardless of how a particular voice call is delivered.

At our November meeting, the Commission will vote on my proposal to encourage innovation and investment in Business Data Services, which are used for wireless backhaul, while ensuring that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold back wireless coverage.

Rounding out our November meeting will be an Order to increase the availability of video-described programming and to make it easier to access. Whether its people with disabilities or the residents of our most isolated rural communities, the FCC is committed to making sure all Americans have access to modern communications. With these actions, we will once again advance the cause of universal access.

FCC poised to reinforce consumer rights and protections

[Commentary] If you are a consumer who feels like you're being taken advantage of, where do you turn for help? The Federal Communications Commission is the nation's expert agency on communications technology and has a mandate to protect consumers who rely on our nation's networks.

In recent years, the commission has moved aggressively to meet our consumer protection responsibilities, whether it's adopting net neutrality protections that preserve the right of internet users to access a fair, fast and open Internet without the fear of gatekeepers, or pushing the NFL to suspend its TV blackout policy. In the coming weeks, the commission is poised to take significant actions to further these obligations, saving consumers money and securing fundamental consumer rights for the digital age. Our core mission is two-fold: we work to promote innovation and investment in world-class networks, products and services, while preserving principles that have long defined our networks -- principles like universal access, consumer protection and public safety. I believe that policies that are pro-innovation and pro-competition are pro-consumer, which is why we work to preserve and promote competitive markets.