FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Holds Forth At CES
January 8, 2014 at 3:49 PM (PT)
TOM WHEELER made his first International CES appearance as FCC Chairman TODAY (1/8), joining CEA Pres./CEO GARY SHAPIRO for the annual one-on-one chat in LAS VEGAS. Radio did not come up in the talk, but WHEELER did discuss several other issues on the Commission's agenda.
Accepting SHAPIRO's praise for "hitting the ground running," WHEELER credited his staff and Interim Chairman MIGNON CLYBURN's activity in her short tenure at the helm for helping the Commission move forward. Noting the NAB's GORDON SMITH in the audience, SHAPIRO raised the question of moving forward of spectrum auctions, which WHEELER noted will start in two weeks with the H-block auction, and several blocks in the FALL.
"It's a great model of government ... and industry working together to solve the spectrum crunch," WHEELER said, adding that the incentive auction of broadcast spectrum will take place next year. Asked what message he would like SMITH to bring to broadcasters, WHEELER said that 'there has never been another time of greater opportunity for broadcasters" but that the market "has changed" and added that if he were a broadcaster, he would have three options -- sell the spectrum "and go off to MAUI," sharing the spectrum (and cutting costs by sharing towers, transmitters, etc. while keeping the existing business model going while cashing in the old frequency), or move to a VHF channel.
Spectrum Auction Reaction
WHEELER said that the goal of the spectrum auction came from Congress, which mandated raising money to fund a first responders' network and repurpose the spectrum in a marketplace solution. "This isn't my first rodeo," SHAPIRO said, recounting his work on the first spectrum auction and subsequent auctions and how he "went around with my hair on fire" warning of dire consequences if the auctions weren't done his way, but lost his argument and the auctions were successful anyway.
In more general questioning, WHEELER professed his respect for ABRAHAM LINCOLN ("if he were alive today, we'd call him an early adopter"), about whom he wrote a book and who presided over a wave of technological revolution. He also advocated accelerating the connection of schools to broadband and outlined some of the things he wants the agency to accomplish, including spectrum auctions, eRate, opportunities for people with disabilities, and closed captioning on the Internet.
Communications Act Rewrite?
He also addressed the possibility of a Communications Act rewrite (he said he thinks the current act allows the Commission adequate power to handle the issues before it). WHEELER, who SHAPIRO said once likened GOOGLE and APPLE to the Mafia, said that the Commission can get involved if the companies act in anti-competitive and preferential ways in the open Internet. And he briefly touched on the issues of phones on airplanes and must-carry. He insisted that the Commission is pro-innovation and pro-competition and wants to preserve both.
NAB's Smith Concerned That Broadcasters' Interests Being Downplayed
After the session, the NAB's SMITH said that "the notion that broadcasting is yesterday is completely false," voicing concern that WHEELER's stance on spectrum auctions does not offer broadcasters enough incentive for giving up the valuable spectrum rather than develop their own uses for the bandwidth.