AT&T, CenturyLink and other ISPs imagined concerns won't hinder broadband, Wheeler says

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the continuing declining costs for equipment will make it easier for service providers of all sizes to expand the availability of broadband to more homes and businesses.

Tom Wheeler, FCC


Speaking at a Brookings event called "Maximizing the benefits of broadband," Wheeler emphasized that the regulator will continue to adopt policies that encourage, not hinder network investments.

"As the cost of broadband goes down, the opportunity for broadband expansion, including competitive broadband expansion and broadband innovations, goes up," Wheeler said. "This means that we're not going to let imagined concerns about investment incentives and the omnipresent bogeymen of utility-like regulations cause us to let up on policies that encourage fast, fair and open broadband."

He dismissed the idea made by large telcos such as AT&T (NYSE: T) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) that new regulatory rules like the net neutrality order will put a chill on new network investments. The two telcos joined the USTelecom association in asking the FCC to stay its action of placing broadband Internet access services under Title II regulation.

In their request for a stay on the new net neutrality order, which went into effect on June 12, these companies claimed that the FCC's proposal to reclassify ISPs under the Title II designation of the 1934 Telecom Act would allow the FCC to decide what new services carriers could offer.

Specifically, the FCC won't conduct retail rate regulation, or require network unbundling or impose tariffs that were part of the monopoly-era voice industry.

"As you know, the big argument of the ISPs in their stay request was that somehow assuring that networks would remain open would erode their incentive to invest," Wheeler said. "Fortunately, there is a disconnect between what is said in Washington advocacy and what happens in real life."

Wheeler added that while a "few big dogs are threatening to starve investment others are stepping up as the CEOs of Sprint, T-Mobile, Frontier, and others have all publicly said that Title II regulation does not discourage investment."

Interestingly, some of the loudest opponents to Title II regulation, including AT&T, Bright House, CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, Comcast, and TDS Telecom all plan to expand their broadband service.

Although Wheeler agrees with Blair Levin's statement that broadband "is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet," it should be subject to oversight.

The FCC does not want to interrupt how services are rolled out and managed by service providers playing in the broadband game, but does want to serve as a referee.

"The kinds of oversight designed by the open Internet order are a new regulatory model designed for these new network times," Wheeler said. "I keep describing this oversight as a referee on the field who can throw the flag and in our implementation I plan to adhere to the wisdom that the best referees don't make themselves part of the game unnecessarily."

Wheeler added that "if they violate the rules we will blow the whistle."  

For more:
- listen to the webcast (reg req.)

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