I had come across this interesting article in CNet about FCC’s current commissioner, Tom Wheeler and the way he is standing up for the consumer, real competition and Net Neutrality. There were people who were saying that he would cave in to the cable and telecommunications industry because of his work with them but he has determined that the end user is his customer.
In 1984, he was involved with the NABU idea which was a special home computer that would be connected to the cable TV infrastructure to deliver games and news information to consumers. This was a closed-loop system that required the use of particular equipment all the way. Compare this with Steve Case who had built up America Online which was centred around commonly-available home computers and modems along with the common telephone network. This was a service that led to and underpinned the dot-com era. The NABU system had to have him get permission from each and every cable operator to set that up in every market. This had given him a first-had experience of what happens to closed-loop telecommunications systems that don’t work on an open framework where you end up with them stifling innovation and them suddenly collapsing.
But Tom Wheeler got his hands wet with the nascent cable-TV industry where he lobbied against the NAB to build the service with programming and make it viable in the minds of consumers. This was where he met his wife Carol who was lobbying for the National Association Broadcasters.
His current reign as FCC Chairman has made him to be the equivalent of Joseph Kennedy Snr. in 1934 when he set up the Securities & Exchange Commision in the first bid to regulate Wall Street. Here, this was about standing up to powerful interests especially that of the US business moguls. It was also about getting things done at the FCC rather than the niceties, like what had happened in the UK at Ofcom when they humiliated British Telecom to provide competitors access to the local loop at reasonable prices.
But what has he done in his position as FCC Chairman?
- He has had the e-rate program which provides tech finding to schools and libraries modernised. This has lead to it benefiting from US$45 billion of revenue from a wireless-spectrum auction that took place in January 2015.
- He eliminated the decades-old sports-blackout rule concerning the broadcast of sports fixtures organised by the popular sports leagues like NFL. This was where TV stations and networks, including cable and satellite TV setups, couldn’t broadcast a sports fixture in the town it was played unless the match was sold out.
- He raised the minimum bandwidth of an Internet service to be classed as a broadband service from 4Mb to 25Mb like what most of Europe calls a broadband service. This was to raise the game when it came to DSL services offered by the incumbent telcos.
- He sided with T-Mobile to make AT&T and Verizon charge reasonable data-roaming rates for 4G LTE services
- He is intending to pre-empt state laws which preclude the establishment of competing fixed-broadband infrastructure by cities, communities and competing operators
- This is part of an effort by the FCC to bring teeth to the concept of Open Internet. Tom Wheeler even caused President Obama to take action to have broadband Internet deemed a Title II Utility in the same concept as fixed telephone service. This is where the service gains various legal protections and requirements
His term at the FCC is about the fact that he represents the US communications-service end user who is watching TV, listening to the radio, making calls on a fixed or mobile phone, or using a regular or mobile computing device to benefit from the Internet.
Personally I see Chairman Tom Wheeler as someone who could bring the USA in to line with Britain, France and the Nordic countries where they don’t kowtow to established telecoms monopolies or cartels but bring forward real competition. His work could be underscored by the bodies at the Department Of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as a way to effectively shake up the telecommunications industry and stop it going backwards.