Thomas Wheeler Takes the Helm at FCC

David ByrdOn Nov. 5, Tom Wheeler became the new chairman of the FCC. He comes into the office having served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984 and as CEO of mobile carrier trade group CTIA from 1992 to 2004. Additionally, he functioned as CEO of several tech startups. Now one would think that such a background would have provided him political support from a wide range of people. However, precisely because of his background people have questioned his appointment. Some believe that his relationship with the wireless and cable companies will be a disadvantage for consumers. Others question whether his relationship with President Obama indicates he will support policies that are destructive to the very industries he has helped to expand and promote. My opinion of Mr. Wheeler is just developing, but we should applaud the appointment of an individual that has managing experience in the industry he will oversee.

Julius Genachowski performed his role as FCC chairman well for the most part but he left some very serious issues unresolved. Net neutrality, broadband penetration and competition, fine-tuning the Connect America Fund to support the communication needs of rural America and myriad other issues remain.

Upon accepting his new position Wheeler stated, “Where there is change, there is upheaval, there is disruption, there is dissent, there is dislocation. It is amidst just that sort of upheaval that we have the responsibility of assuring that innovation and technology advance while at the same time preserving the basic covenant between networks and those whom they connect.”

Interestingly, his first major action has come in a request to mobile carriers to unlock mobile phones. This has been a long desired policy by many consumer groups. In a letter sent to the CTIA, Chairman Wheeler pressed the association to reconsider its stance on cellphone unlocking. He specifically asked for the two major changes:

  • Unlock mobile wireless devices for customers, former customers and legitimate owners when the applicable service contract, installment plan or ETF is completed.
  • Affirmatively notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking and/or automatically unlock devices when eligible, without an additional fee.

But before we narrowly define the chairman, consider his evasive answers when asked about his support for net neutrality: You cant have economic growth if you dont have competition. You can put me down as rabidly pro-competition.” He later added, I am pro the ability of individuals to access an open network.”

Time will tell what this means. Time will also tell if Chairman Wheeler promotes policies supported by the NTCA, the RLECs and ANPI.

David Byrd is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of channel sales for
. He previously spent five years as vice president of marketing and sales for
Broadvox and before that was vice president of channels and alliances for Eftia and Telcordia.

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