No ‘utility-style’ regulation of broadband, FCC chairman pledges

26 June 2015. By Amy Miller.

The Federal Communications Commission will not micromanage broadband networks, Chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday.

With a rule change that took effect this month, the FCC is now regulating broadband as a common carrier utility, but there will be no “utility-style” regulation of broadband providers, Wheeler said during a keynote speech.

Wheeler addressed opponents of the rule change who worry that increased FCC oversight will hurt investment and innovation, vowing that the agency is creating “a new regulatory model designed for new network times.”

When it comes to regulating and promoting competition, the FCC will not become a substitute for “hard-fought negotiations” between companies by getting too involved, Wheeler said.

“We are the arbiters of last resort, not first resort,” he said.

Wheeler likened the agency to a “referee on the field who can throw the flag,” noting that the best referees don’t make themselves part of the game unnecessarily. It’s up to the companies, not the FCC, to negotiate the best deals for their customers, he said.

“As a disciple of Woody Hayes and Urban Meyer, I believe the players should be allowed to play,” he said. “Referees make sure the game is played fairly, they don’t call the plays.”

But the FCC won’t ignore rule violations, he said. If companies violate the rules, he said, “we will blow the whistle.”

He pointed to the agency’s “skepticism” about the competitive impact of a rumored Sprint-T-Mobile merger a year ago and to the recently abandoned Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger as evidence that the FCC takes its responsibility to protect competition seriously.

The FCC will continue to look for ways to promote broadband competition, such as lowering the costs of extending broadband facilities to expand access, he said.

Demand for broadband is also affected by consumers’ concerns about protecting their privacy, Wheeler said, and the FCC will begin the process of setting new privacy rules with a notice of proposed rulemaking in the fall.

“We are closer to the beginning of the broadband networks’ promise than the end,” he said.