Wheeler Confirmation Hearing Tomorrow

Tom Wheeler, the former head lobbyist for the cable and wireless phone industry, and nominated to lead the FCC by President Obama, will face his Senate confirmation hearing tomorrow. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will webcast the hearing live on their website tomorrow.

He is likely to be questioned on the agency’s plans to implement incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum next year, among many other issues, notes Fierce Wireless.

According to a Republican staff memo, Wheeler said that the top three challenges the FCC would encounter under his leadership are:

  • Implementing the spectrum auctions and creating a public safety network
  • The IP transition–overseeing the transition from analog switched-circuit networks to Internet Protocol (IP) delivery
  • Advancing civil society through communications, including the broadband buildout and promoting diversity.

Republicans are concerned the FCC will craft auction rules that will limit the amount of spectrum that AT&T and Verizon can acquire, and will likely ask about Wheeler’s views on how the auction rules should be crafted.

Wheeler was chief executive of the National Cable Television Association for five years and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association for 12 years before becoming a venture capitalist.

Wheeler’s supporters say he backed the net neutrality rules the F.C.C. adopted in 2010 to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against content that competes with their own. But he also suggested that federal regulators merely impose conditions on AT&T’s 2011 bid to buy T-Mobile, which, was blocked by the Obama administration.

The US telecommunications environment is clearly more competitive due to the action by the Justice Department in blocking the ATT/T-Mobile merge.

The US Department of Justice has recently called on the FCC to more aggressively regulate the amount of 600 MHz spectrum that AT&T and Verizon can own. William J. Baer, the assistant attorney general who oversees the antitrust division, told a Senate subcommittee (pdf) that limits were needed to promote competition in the market for wireless broadband service.

“The Department of Justice’s principal concern is that acquisitions of spectrum, whether at auction or through subsequent transactions, should not be used to create or enhance market power,” it wrote in a letter to the FCC (pdf).

The FCC is preparing to conduct a new auction in the 600MHz band. The DOJ worries that the spectrum will be dominated by AT&T and Verizon, ensuring no further competitors can come to market.

“The Department concludes that rules that ensure the smaller nationwide networks, which currently lack substantial low-frequency spectrum, have an opportunity to acquire such spectrum could improve the competitive dynamic among nationwide carriers and benefit consumers.”

“Today, the two leading carriers have the vast majority of low-frequency spectrum, whereas the two other nationwide carriers have virtually none. This results in the two smaller nationwide carriers having a somewhat diminished ability to compete, particularly in rural areas where the cost to build out coverage is higher with high-frequency spectrum.”

Bruce Mehlman, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, says the Department of Justice is going too far in attempts to regulate spectrum auction.

Congress expressly mandated that no bidders be excluded from the auctions. Yet DOJ would do precisely that. Such interventions are frequently unfair and usually unwise, given the difficulty of predicting the future, especially as it relates to technology.

Currently, both cable and cellular operators hope to eviscerate “free” WiFi hotspots and make everyone paid subscribers.

A handful of companies have kept mobile wireless artificially high, as the cost of delivering cell service has plummeted. Consumers are the product for wireless carriers – even though wireless broadband is far from “free”.

There’s a better way. It’s called competition.

Gigabit fiber to schools could be the first step in low-cost 600 MHZ broadband services. Education in the Cloud could save billions from the Universal Service Fund that all consumers pay into.

As the former head of the cable and wireless lobby, Tom Wheeler is well practiced in the art of persuasion. Perhaps he’ll convince skeptics in the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow.

UPDATE: Aw, geez. Wheeler’s testimony seemed neither candid nor sincere. Not a good sign. Previous FCC Chairman Genachowski, whether you agreed with him or not, seemed more sophisticated politically and was transparent in his goals. My hunch, based on 30 minutes of viewing Wheeler’s testimony, is that this will be an FCC lacking in public interest. He could learn something from Chairman Jay_Rockefeller who has far more populist savy. My quick take: Wheeler’s in it for the power. I believe He knows exactly what he wants and will kill unlicensed 600 MHz and White Space competition. He’ll jump ship with the next administration for an investment partnership.


Wheeler’s Mobile Musings, which is a bit on the dry side, supported the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Wheeler Tapped to Head FCC, 600 MHz Auction Speculation, White House: Spectrum Sharing for New sub-6 GHz Spectrum, Comcast Creates Hotspot 2.0 National Network, Kickstarter for FiberNets, ConnectED Program Announced by White House, T-Mobile Files 600 MHz Proposal – Eliminating “Free” Spectrum, FCC: TV Auction in 2014, FCC Auction Plans for 2014, Cellcos to FCC: Give Us 2 GHz TV Microwave, Municipal Broadband: On Again?, FirstNet: Get Utilities to Pay for It, It’s Official: Austin Gets Google Fiber, FCC Approves Dish Spectrum for Mobile Broadband , Mobile: The New Television, FCC Moves on TV Frequency Auction, FCC Makes TV Spectrum Sharing Official, FCC Gets White Space Autonomy, Municipal Broadband: On Again?, FirstNet: Get Utilities to Pay for It, It’s Official: Austin Gets Google Fiber,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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