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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks and Markets

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
January 9, 2014

In my first remarks to FCC staff as Chairman, I said that the connective technology that defines the 21st century flows through the FCC, and our challenge is to be as nimble as the innovators and network builders who are changing the world and creating these great opportunities. Meeting that challenge will require changes in the way we conduct our business, as well as constant fine-tuning of our policies. Consistent with this message, the agenda for January’s open agenda will include four items tied together by one common theme: “Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks.” I’d like to take this opportunity to briefly discuss why each of these items is so important.

Among the biggest changes the FCC must confront are the IP transitions. Note the use of the plural “transitions.” Circuit switching is being replaced by more efficient networks – made of fiber or copper or wireless. Greater efficiency in networks can translate into greater innovation and greater benefits for network operators and users alike.

The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect. Those values: public safety, interconnection, competition, consumer protection and, of course, universal access, are not only familiar, they are fundamental.

At the January 30 Commission meeting, we will propose a series of experiments utilizing all-IP networks. We hope and expect that many proposed experiments, wired and wireless, will be forthcoming. Those experiments will allow the networks, their users, the FCC and the public to assess the impact and potential of all-IP networks on consumers, customers and businesses in all parts of our country, including rural America, and all populations, including people with disabilities.

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The Path to a Successful Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 6, 2013

Since my arrival at the Commission a month ago, I have spent more time working on the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction than any other single issue.  I am confident in the Commission’s ability to make the appropriate policy decisions.  I am also confident that the policy challenges are only part of the picture – we must also get the enabling technology right.

Having spent most of the last decade helping technology-based companies from the ground up, I know the incredible challenge of taking a cutting-edge product from concept to market on deadline.  That is exactly what we are doing with the incentive auction.

I have been mightily impressed by the work of the Incentive Auction Task Force.  Chairman Clyburn kept the pedal to the metal, and it shows.  Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai have helped to sharpen the issues.  As a result, the Task Force has been working with the focus and speed of a start-up, while meeting the high standard of public engagement and deliberation required of a government agency.

There are several key ingredients to fulfilling our instructions from Congress and making the incentive auction a success.  First and foremost, we absolutely must make fact-based policy decisions in an open and transparent manner.  Beyond the policy issues, however, we must also exhaustively test the operating systems and the software necessary to conduct the world’s first-of-a kind incentive auction.  This includes ensuring that such systems are user-friendly to both broadcasters and wireless carriers who will participate.  

And as any responsible manager knows, managing a complex undertaking such as this also requires an ongoing commitment to continuously and honestly assess its readiness and its project plan.  

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Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 2, 2013

Almost a month into my new job, the fact that I’ve always been a “network guy” and an intrepid history buff should come as no surprise. Reading history has reinforced the central importance networks play and revealed the common themes in successive periods of network-driven change. Now, at the FCC, I find myself joining my colleagues in a position of both responsibility and authority over how the public is affected by and interfaces with the networks that connect us.

Prior to my appointment by President Obama, I was doing research for a book about the history of networks. The new job stopped that project. However, I believe strongly that our future is informed by our past. While awaiting Senate confirmation, I tried to distill the project on which I had been working to connect what I had learned in my research to the challenges in my new job.

The result is a short, free eBook, “Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities”.  It’s a look at the history of three network revolutions – the printing press, the railroad, and the telegraph and telephony – and how the fourth network revolution – digital communications – will be informed by those experiences.  

It was this process that led me to what I’ve been describing as the “prisms” for looking at policy, or the “pillars” of communication policy: ensuring that our new networks promote economic growth, preserving the fundamental values that have traditionally been the foundation of our communications networks, and enabling public purpose benefits of our networks. 

We have the privilege of being present at a hinge moment in history to wrestle with the future of our networks and their effect on our commerce and our culture. If such a topic is of interest to you, I hope you’ll download this short eBook. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a dialogue.

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The IP Transition: Starting Now

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 19, 2013

Our communications networks are changing – and fast. What some call the “IP transition” is really a series of transitions; a multi-faceted revolution that advances as the packets of Internet Protocol (IP)-based communication replace the digital stream of bits and analog frequency waves. The impacts on networks have already begun and will be profound. Fiber networks are expanding. Bonding technology is showing interesting possibilities with regard to the nation’s traditional copper infrastructure. Communications protocols are moving from circuit-switched Time-division Multiplexing (or TDM) to IP. And wireless voice and data services are increasingly prevalent, empowering consumers to connect at the place and time of their choosing.

This is what I have called the Fourth Network Revolution, and it is a good thing. History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas, and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society – think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.

But the future of networks can be hard to see, especially in moments of great change. When Alexander Graham Bell offered Western Union all rights to his telephone patents in 1876, the response was a curt dismissal. A Western Union memorandum concluded that “[t]his ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”

The way forward is to encourage technological change while preserving the attributes of network services that customers have come to expect – that set of values we have begun to call the Network Compact.

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Opening Day at the FCC: Perspectives, Challenges, and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 5, 2013

Today I had the privilege of meeting with the staff of the Federal Communications Commission for the first time as Chairman. I am grateful to the President and the Senate for the confidence they have placed in me and look forward to working with the superb professionals at the FCC.

Over the last six months Chairwoman Clyburn has kept this agency running in top form. There was nothing “Interim” in her chairmanship. Chairwoman Clyburn and her colleagues addressed tough issues and came to important conclusions. Mignon Clyburn is a leader and the American people and this agency are better off because of her leadership.  

I know from conversations with the Chairwoman that she brushes off such compliments and talks about the great team at the FCC, especially Michele Ellison who took time from her important “day job” to serve as Chief of Staff. Michele and all of the members of Chairwoman Clyburn’s staff also deserve a huge thank you.

As I waited for the Senate’s decision I boned up by reading the speeches of Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. And while awaiting confirmation Commissioner O’Rielly and I actually spent time together in the same jury pool at the DC courthouse. It will be an honor to work with these dedicated individuals and to be stimulated by their intellect. Former Chairman Genachowski put us all on a course to a better broadband future and I am very cognizant that we are all building on his accomplishments.

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Launching the TAC Blog Series

by Tom Wheeler
November 12, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:157:height=100,width=75]]Last Thursday afternoon I had the honor of chairing the first meeting of the FCC’s new Technical Advisory Council, or TAC. The TAC exists under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which follows a proud tradition of providing the Federal Government with outside consultation, dating back to the George Washington Administration and the first President’s Committee on the Whisky Rebellion. Thankfully our Council’s challenge does not involve such physically dangerous circumstances! This is the 5th TAC that the FCC has convened and in this iteration, our Council has been charged with another specific, critical task: To help the Commission identify important areas of innovation and develop communications and technology policies that will drive job creation and economic growth.

Our TAC has been convened at a dynamic time at the FCC and for the communications and technology industries. When the first TAC was suggested in the 1990’s, the FCC was an agency overseeing multiple analog networks. The digital world has changed that. IP has pushed activity to the edge and innovation has followed. The Census Bureau estimates that most of the net employment gains from 1980-2005 came from firms younger than 5 years old—and those firms looked more like the distributed networks that connected them than they did the centralized networks of old.

Amidst this change, the challenge for the TAC in its advisory role is to answer several questions.

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