New FCC Chairman: Regulating the Internet Is a 'Non-Starter'

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Spectrum auctions will be the top line item on the regulator's agenda in 2014, Tom Wheeler says.

The new Chairman to the Federal Communications Commission promised to promote competition in the telecommunications industry and hinted that he may limit the amount of spectrum available to AT&T and Verizon for purchase in upcoming spectrum auctions in his first policy speech Monday at The Ohio State University.

"Competition does not and will not produce adequate outcomes in the circumstance of significant, persisting market power or of significant negative externalities," Wheeler said. "Where those occur, the Communications Act and the interests of our society – the public interest – compel us to act and we will."

Wheeler--learning from the snafu--also expressed caution in announcing an auction schedule until the FCC is confident that the auction software is "up to the task."

Spectrum auctions will be the top line item on the FCC's agenda in 2014, as the agency is expected to hold an unique incentive auction to buyback spectrum from TV broadcasters and sell it to wireless providers.

The Chairman's comments on spectrum auctions were part of broader remarks outlining his philosophies for regulation. Wheeler positioned himself as a moderate, calling himself an "unabashed" believer in marketplace competition who is not afraid to enact new regulations to protect public interest.

"Regulating the Internet is a non-starter," said Wheeler. "Assuring that the Internet exists, however, as a collection of open, interconnected entities is an appropriate activity for the people's representatives.

He also touched on other topics that have come up during his first month in office, such as cell phone unlocking and cellular use on airplanes. Wheeler was surprised by the outcry in response to his proposal to lift the ban on cellular lift on airplanes.

Wheeler, an "intrepid history buff", also published a free eBook Monday that explores the history of network revolutions in the U.S. The book was the foundation for his first speech.

Wheeler's speech is expected to be the first of many over the next couple of months.