During a speech last Friday at the Brookings Institution, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined the FCC’s upcoming agenda for broadband-related issues such as the classification of over-the-top (OTT) online video services. The Chairman reiterated his view of the FCC as a broadband market referee serving as the arbiter “of last resort, not the first resort.” In keeping with the theme of his speech, which addressed the promotion of broadband, Wheeler touched on a variety of topics, including (1) the virtuous circle among broadband deployment, use and demand, (2) the need for new competitive broadband offerings, and (3) the historical role of broadband and other networks.

One way to promote broadband, argued Wheeler, is to give OTT video providers “the ability to choose the same business model as cable and satellite providers, with the same program access rights.” Noting that the FCC launched rulemaking proceedings last year to classify OVDs as multichannel video program distributors , Wheeler advised his audience that “we expect to move. . . to a report and order this fall” that would accommodate “a line of new OTT providers queuing up to expand video choice—and increase consumer demand—for broadband.” 

As a follow-up to the FCC’s decision earlier this year to reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, Wheeler also reported that the FCC would launch rulemaking proceedings this fall “to address issues of privacy implicated by consumers’ use of the Internet.” While privacy safeguards are not among the Title II provisions that the FCC pledged to forbear from applying to broadband ISPs as specified in the Open Internet order, Wheeler said rulemaking proceedings are nonetheless needed, as existing privacy rules were written explicitly for legacy telecommunications networks. Wheeler further noted that the planned rulemaking fulfills commitments made by the FCC in the Open Internet order, adding that “demand for broadband also is affected by consumers’ perceptions about the potential non-monetary costs of using it.” 

With respect to upcoming incentive auctions of broadcast television spectrum to the wireless industry, Wheeler affirmed: “there will be an incentive auction in the first quarter of 2016.” Meanwhile, as he described the FCC as “the referee on the field” in terms of broadband oversight, Wheeler told his listeners, “our job isn’t to substitute the FCC for what should be hard-fought negotiation and tough competition—it’s up to the players to compete hard against their opponents.”