Appearing onstage with Consumer Technology Association (CTA) President Gary Shapiro at the CTA Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the FCC’s decision last year to reclassify broadband Internet services under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. The Chairman emphasized that, “as the Internet has evolved to become the essential communications tool—the defining communications tool—of the 21st century,” the need for increased FCC oversight became apparent. Wheeler also voiced optimism for a successful outcome to the upcoming incentive auction, which he anticipates will result in an “extravaganza” of returned broadcast spectrum that will be auctioned and repurposed for wireless broadband use.
Wheeler delivered these remarks on Wednesday during a Q&A session with Shapiro. Asked by Shapiro if he expects to see “spectrum transfers in every city” as a result of the incentive auction, Wheeler replied confidently, “oh, we will . . . at the best odds you can dream up.” While he acknowledged initial broadcast industry perceptions that the incentive auction posed “some kind of threat,” Wheeler said many broadcasters have since changed their views and now plan to participate in the reverse phase of the incentive auction because “first of all, it is voluntary” and because “it is an opportunity” to exchange their spectrum assets for cash while continuing their operations through shared spectrum arrangements with other broadcasters.
Meanwhile, on the subject of Title II reclassification, Wheeler predicted that the open Internet rules adopted by the FCC last year will be upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court. Shapiro remarked that, prior to last year, the FCC did not possess authority over the privacy of information transmitted over broadband networks and that the FCC is now “jumping in there” with the reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service.” Wheeler replied by citing the FCC’s long-standing obligation to protect the privacy of customer proprietary network information in pointing out: “we’ve been involved in privacy for 80 years.” Wheeler also delineated the authority of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over broadband privacy. Noting that FCC authority is limited to networks and that the FTC is responsible for overseeing edge providers, Wheeler told Shapiro: “we’ve signed a [memorandum of understanding] with the FTC in which we recognize that we have jurisdictions that are parallel to each other.”