Era of digital networking increases import of FCC, says Wheeler

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The advent of the Internet has made the role of the Federal Communications Commission more important, not less, argues newly confirmed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in an e-book dated Nov. 26.

"Whereas earlier networks enabled the economic activities of their eras, our network revolution defines virtually all aspects of the current economy," Wheeler writes.

Digital networks stand at a crossroads, he adds, and the role of the FCC should be to facilitate dynamic change while also ensuring the future propagation of "enduring civic values that networks have historically embodied."

"We must be clear. 'Regulating the Internet' is a non-starter. What the Internet does is an activity in which policy makers should not be involved (other than assuring overriding purposes such as the ability to complete 9-1-1 calls or the ban of child pornography). Regulating Internet access is a different matter. Assuring the Internet exists as a collection of open, interconnected facilities is an appropriate activity for the People's representatives," he writes.

In the text, Wheeler says the FCC has a role in ensuring that competition among network providers exists, stating that the more of the former that exists, the less need there will be for government action to ensure the latter.

Voluntary self-regulation based on a multi-stakeholder approach "has many attractive features and potential benefits," Wheeler also says, but warns that "it only works when accompanied by serious oversight and an iron-clad corollary: 'But if you don't, we shall.'"

A failure of carriers to have backup capacity to serve the 9-1-1 system is an example of where voluntary standard implementation failed, he said, stating that a lesson learned is that multi-stakeholder solutions ought to include strong oversight.

He also emphasizes access, writing that "if high-speed Internet connections have not been built to an area or are denied to individuals because of either their individual economic realities or the practices of the provider, then access has been effectively denied."

Speaking Dec. 2 at Ohio State University, Wheeler summarized many of his points. However, the New York Times reports that in response to a question, Wheeler "indicated that he would not oppose some type of usage-based pricing, with Internet service providers charging so-called data hogs different amounts for service depending on how much data they receive and transmit."

For more:
- read Wheeler's e-book, "NET EFFECTS: The Past, Present, and Future Impact of Our Networks"
- read Wheeler's Dec. 2 speech at Ohio State

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