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Chairman Wheeler FCC Oversight Hearing Statement

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Released: December 12, 2013

Testimony of

Thomas Wheeler

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

Before the

Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

Committee on Energy and Commerce

U.S. House of Representatives

“Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission”
10:00 a.m.
2123 Rayburn

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate this
opportunity to testify before you today concerning the oversight of the Federal Communications
Commission.
I am particularly pleased to appear here with a full panel of FCC Commissioners. As I said on
my first day on the job, it will be – and it already has been – an honor to work with my fellow
Commissioners. I believe that we will make a great team. We may not always agree but, having
spent time with each of my colleagues, I believe we will always seek the public interest.
I am equally honored to be working with the men and women of the Federal Communications
Commission. It is the hard-working and dedicated professionals of the Commission who are
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responsible for what happens at the FCC. Our activities rely mainly on the expertise and
dedication of these fine people.
Now, on my 39th day in office, I am pleased to be here to testify before you. I have appreciated
the informal conversations that I have had with various Members of this Subcommittee. And I
view hearings like this as critically important in building the working relationship that I hope
will typify my tenure as Chairman.
In my first few days in office, I have put forth a set of principles that I believe should guide the
Commission as it makes its decisions. I have described myself as a “network guy” and that is
who I am. More importantly, that is who America is – a nation leading the world in the creation
of new networks and a place where the new networks and the new economy are synonymous.
We are living in the midst of a great network revolution – the marriage of computing and
connectivity known as the Internet. Like other network technological revolutions that preceded
it, our new network revolution is redirecting both our commerce and our culture. Any such
change comes with an ample supply of challenges.
It is from the history of these network revolutions – their struggles, their successes and their
lessons – that we derive three overriding principles that I believe should guide our work at the
Commission:

Promoting Economic Growth and National Leadership

– technological innovation,
growth and national economic leadership have always been determined by our networks.
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Competition drives the benefits of those networks, and we have a responsibility to see to
the expansion of those networks, including the appropriate allocation of adequate
amounts of spectrum.

Guaranteeing the Network Compact

– a change in technology may occasion a review
of the rules, but it does not change the rights of users or the responsibilities of network
providers. This civil bond between network providers and users has always had three
components: access, interconnection, and the encouragement and enablement of the
public-purpose benefits of our networks (including public safety and national security).
The Commission must protect the Network Compact. For example, the right of access
also means the ability of users to access all lawful content on a network. That is why the
FCC adopted – and I support – the Open Internet Order.

Making Networks Work for Everyone

– it isn’t just that high-speed expands, but also
what it enables. How networks enable a 21st century educational system, enable the
expansion of capabilities for Americans with disabilities; and assure diversity, localism
and speech are basic underpinnings of our responsibility.
At the core of our networks is competition. My time in the private sector has left me an
unabashed supporter of competition.
Competition is a power unto itself that must be encouraged. Competitive markets produce better
outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets. Where we are fortunate enough to have
workable competition, we should protect it. Where there may not be fulsome competition, we
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should promote it. Congress has given us tools to accomplish this goal. We will use these tools
in a fact-based, data-driven manner.
In today’s world, businesses are moving fast, innovation is moving fast, and technology is
moving fast. The FCC must move quickly as well. So before we take your questions, let me
note three areas where the Commission is taking action to better keep pace with today’s
innovation economy while maintaining our commitment to sound and effective decision-making
and the public interest.
First, is Process Reform.
One of my top priorities is improving the efficiency of the FCC, especially the timeliness of FCC
decision-making. I know this Subcommittee has been focusing on this issue. Yesterday, you
moved legislation related to this goal. We have indicated our goal is to manage the FCC in the
best possible manner with the most transparency. We will work with Congress to have the best
functioning FCC.
On my second day on the job I announced that I had requested a senior member of my staff to
attack the process reform topic and provide me with a report on process reform recommendations
within 60 days. For example, I have instructed staff to consider actions that would:
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 Enhance the accountability of the decision-making process at the FCC, by establishing
smart internal deadlines, and updating our tracking systems to better monitor and report
on the status of open items;
 Expedite the licensing process and reduce the amount of information applicants need to
file, with the aim of speeding the process;
 Shorten the processing time of applications for review through an “automatic”
affirmation process, as Commissioner Pai has suggested;
 Streamline the consumer complaint process and create a searchable database that would
enable us to analyze the data received more effectively, as Commissioner Rosenworcel
has proposed;
 Take aim at backlogged matters and initiate aggressive plans for getting these matters
decided, as Commissioner Clyburn did during her tenure as Chairwoman; and, of course;
 Weed out regulations that are outdated, and incorporate performance measures for the
most significant activities being proposed by the FCC.
No one has a monopoly on good ideas. That is why we have used a crowd-sourcing mechanism
to solicit input from the FCC staff on reform suggestions, receiving close to 300 excellent ideas.
Their suggestions – and those of external parties – will make a difference.
In putting forward these suggestions, I am eager to work on a bipartisan basis, both within the
Commission and with Congress. For example, I heartedly subscribe to Commissioner Pai’s
statement that, “[i]f we make it easier for others to hold us accountable for our performance, I’m
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confident that we would act with more dispatch.” On this, and other, items, I believe we can find
common ground.
I also have urged staff not to wait to pursue streamlining initiatives, but rather to take whatever
steps they can to speed decision making immediately. I believe the recent action to approve the
very large – but non-controversial – Verizon/Vodaphone transaction via a Bureau-level Public
Notice rather than a lengthy order is a good example of this kind of common-sense approach.
Second are the spectrum auctions and especially the incentive auction.
The availability and efficient use of spectrum for all purposes is, as it should be, a very high
Commission priority. I am very pleased about the recent progress toward making additional
spectrum available for wireless broadband – something for which this Subcommittee, NTIA and
the Department of Defense deserve to take substantial credit. I am committed to working to
ensure the Commission meets the statutory deadlines established by Congress, including
permitting the pairing of the long-sought 2155-2180 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands. This
Subcommittee – on a bipartisan basis – has played a critical role in this effort. The Guthrie-
Matsui legislation marked up yesterday is a timely example of your commitment to this goal.
Of course, the incentive auction, which Congress instructed us to conduct, represents both a great
opportunity and a great challenge. The opportunity to rely upon a voluntary, market-oriented
approach to determine the highest and best use of spectrum is self-evident. Delivering on those
instructions is a non-trivial undertaking. There is no single topic on which I have spent more
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time over the last 39 days. These meetings have given me an appreciation of the very complex
nature of the undertaking. I am confident that this project is in the hands of very skilled
professionals and I am committed to augmenting their number as required. I believe that
conducting auctions in the middle of 2015 will substantially enhance their success; to that end,
we are scheduled to consider adopting a Report and Order in the spring of next year.
And while we are talking about spectrum and weeding out regulations that are outdated, the issue
of what to do with spectrum while on an airplane has garnered a great deal of attention and been
widely misunderstood.
The FAA is the expert agency on determining which devices can be used on airplanes.
The FCC is the expert agency when it comes to technical communications issues. For over 20
years, the FCC banned the use of mobile devices on airplanes because of their potential to
interfere with networks on the ground below.
At the FCC’s Open Meeting later today, the Commission will consider an item that seeks public
comment on a proposal to update this outdated rule. There are two parts to the proposal:
 Part 1: Maintaining the existing prohibition and, in fact, expanding it to prohibit
transmission on all mobile frequencies.
 Part 2: If the airline elects to install new on-board technology to provide a mobile signal
to passengers within its planes and control its transmission, the airline would be allowed
to do so. This technology has been operational in many of the world’s major airlines
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since 2008 and has been demonstrated to resolve the interference problems on which the
FCC rule is based.
If the basis for the rule is no longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. This is a simple
proposition, as applicable to the rules about the telegraph (which we still have on the books and
should be eliminated), and the rules about on-board interference which technology has made
unnecessary.
I understand the consternation caused by the thought of your onboard seatmate disturbing the
flight making phone calls. I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet
any more than anyone else. But we are not the Federal Courtesy Commission. Our mandate
from Congress is to oversee how networks function. Technology has produced a new network
reality recognized by governments and airlines around the world. Our responsibility is to
recognize that new reality’s impact on our old rules.
I have placed calls to the CEOs of major airlines to deliver a simple message: we are not
requiring them to do anything and that, absent new systems on their planes, the ban on mobile
devices continues. I am reminding them that if they choose to install the new technology, it
permits the airline to disable the ability to make calls while still allowing for text messaging,
emails and web surfing.
I am painfully aware of the emotional response this proposal has triggered. Yet, I firmly believe
that if we are serious about eliminating regulations which serve no purpose, the decision is clear.
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A vote not to proceed on seeking comments on this issue is a vote against regulatory reform.
The third area of focus is the Internet Protocol (IP) transitions.
That’s with an “s” – transitions – because there are more than one. What some call the “IP
transition” is really a series of transitions; a multi-faceted revolution that advances as the packets
of IP-based communication replaces 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 IP-based wireless data services are increasingly
prevalent with IP voice not far behind.
At our Open Meeting this afternoon, we will hear a status report from our Technology
Transitions Policy Task Force. This report will lay out the schedule, including plans for an
Order for consideration at our January Open Meeting. That Order will recommend to the
Commission how best to: (i) obtain comment on and begin a diverse set of experiments that will
allow the Commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of such
transitions (including consideration of AT&T’s proposed trials); (ii) collect data that will
supplement the lessons learned from the experiments, and (iii) initiate a process for Commission
consideration of legal, policy, and technical issues that would not neatly fit within the
experiments, with a game plan for efficiently managing the various adjudications and
rulemakings that, together, will constitute our IP transition agenda.
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****************************************************************************
Let me finish with a phrase I have used a lot in my first month. I believe we are the “Optimism
Agency” of the Federal government. The 21st Century flows through the FCC. I am an optimist
about the benefits the new 21st Century network can bring to the American people. But I am
optimist without illusions. Network change is always accompanied by new challenges. And in
addressing these challenges, we – the Congress and the Commission – are stewards of the public
interest. I look forward to working with this Subcommittee as we exercise our joint
responsibilities.
Thank you. I look forward to answering your questions.
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