FCC appoints UBB supporter Steven Wildman as chief economist

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The FCC on Thursday named Michigan State University professor and communications and media expert Steven Wildman as its new chief economist, a move considered controversial due to his support for usage-based billing (UBB).

Wildman, who will start this month, served as the as the Acting Chair of the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media (TISM) at Michigan State University.

"I'm very pleased that Steve will be joining the Commission," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in a release announcing Wildman's appointment. "He has a stellar record as an economist and has conducted important research on broadband adoption and spectrum management, among other topics."

Wildman will take over the chief economist position from Marius Schwartz, who is returning to his prior role as a Professor of Economics at Georgetown University.

During his tenure at Michigan State University and in previous roles at Northwestern University's Department of Communications Studies and University of California's Department of Economics, Wildman focused his teaching and research on economics, law and policy on the communications industry, and the impact of information technologies on the organization of economic activities.

Specifically, he conducted research on broadband adoption examining infrastructure cost structures and demand in rural and underserved areas and the efficiency properties of alternative spectrum governance regimes and network interconnection policy.

However, Wildman's appointment isn't without controversy.

A Broadband DSL Reports article points out that he is a supporter of usage-based pricing (UBP). Also referred to as usage-based billing (UBB), UBP puts caps on how much bandwidth a user can access every month and charges additional fees to users that go over their limit.

The UBP/UBB concept has been met with constant protest from consumer groups and subscribers alike.

In a recent paper he wrote for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Wildman said that UBP plans are positive for consumers.

"...The effects of well-designed [usage-based pricing] plans on consumers are likely to be beneficial, as are the effects of UBP on investments in the broadband infrastructure," wrote Wildman in the NCTA paper (.pdf). 

U.S. cable providers and major telcos are almost all in the process of implementing UBP plans for their respective broadband customers. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) both implemented UBP plans in 2012, while AT&T (NYSE: T) and Frontier Communications (Nasdaq: FTR) put their UBP plans in place in 2011.

Outside of the United States, Canadian telcos Bell Canada (NYSE: BCE) and Telus (Toronto: T.TO) have implemented UBP.

For more:
- see the release
- Broadband DSL Reports has this article
- here's the NTCA paper (.pdf)

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