From Dingo To Net Neutrality Hero: FCC Boss On Why Everybody Had Him Wrong

from the book-by-its-cover dept

When FCC boss Tom Wheeler was first appointed to head the agency, few expected much. After all, here was yet another FCC revolving door regulator with a history of lobbying for both the cable and wireless industries -- now tasked with heading an agency that oversees both. Yet the one-time "dingo" surprised everybody by fighting for tougher net neutrality rules, raising the standard definition of broadband, standing up for municipal broadband and improved broadband competition, and now fighting to unlock the cable industry's stranglehold over the cable set top box.

A few years later, and it's not a stretch to argue that Wheeler may be the most startup and consumer-friendly boss the agency has ever seen (though given the agency's history as a telecom lap dog, that may not be saying all that much). In an interview with The Verge, Wheeler points out why many people (this writer included) pegged him wrong when he first arrived at the FCC:
...People didn’t know who I was. What was the cable industry like when I was lobbying for them? They were the underdog. They were the folks trying to climb up the hill, and broadcasters and telephone companies tried to stop them. What was the wireless industry like when I was there? They were the young guys coming up the side of the mountain. What was I doing when I was a VC? I was funding startup companies that were challenging the incumbents.

My heart has always been with the insurgents, not the incumbents. And nobody stopped to really look at that — they just wanted to make this judgement. But I’m the same guy I always was.
The problem Wheeler faces now is finishing what he started, since net neutrality rules don't mean much if the agency isn't willing to enforce them. The FCC made the decision not to ban the practice of zero rating when crafting its net neutrality rules, instead claiming it would tackle anti-competitive behavior on a "case by case" basis under the neutrality "general conduct" rule. And despite Verizon and Comcast now using usage caps to give their own streaming video platforms a distinct market advantage, the FCC has yet to really act.

Wheeler continues to insist that the agency is thoroughly investigating the issue before taking action, telling The Verge the goal with zero rating is "regulatory agility":
"You can see where it’s helpful if it reduces cost and increases choice. You can see where it’s harmful if it discourages and discriminates. So it’s the poster child for why we wanted to make sure we had a general conduct rule in place. What we’re doing right now is looking at the various schemes that have been developed, and we’ve asked folks on multiple sides of the issue to come in and sit down and help us understand so we can think our way through this.

I think the key to the Open Internet Order is the concept of regulatory agility. And zero rating is a classic example of that. I can argue there are some aspects of it that are good, and I can argue there’s some aspects of it that are not so good. The job of the regulator is to figure out, "Okay, now how do I deal with this?"
It remains entirely possible Wheeler chooses not to act on zero rating whatsoever. After all, the agency has a history of treating usage caps (despite their obvious anti-competitive implications) as little more than "creative pricing," and Wheeler's on-record calling T-Mobile's zero rating of some video services "innovative" and "pro competition". Public pressure's also not particularly high, since the majority of the public doesn't understand the potential threat zero rating poses to a level playing field. And Wheeler may not even get to make a decision: the rules could easily be gutted by mega-ISP lawsuits or the upcoming Presidential election.

So while Wheeler's certainly been a boon to a telecom sector plagued by regulatory capture for generations, this is very much an unfinished story. If Wheeler refuses (dingo!) or is prevented from addressing the anti-competitive (ab)use of broadband usage caps, the entire fight for a neutral Internet could find itself kicked back to the starting line.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • icon
    DOlz (profile), 14 Mar 2016 @ 7:12am

    Thank you Mr. Wheeler

    So far Mr. Wheeler has shown me that I was wrong about him. I hope he continues to prove my initial assessment of him was in error.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2016 @ 7:29am

    Stupid People once again

    Here is another fine story of stupid people giving everything away to the one person that seems to give a shit.

    Yes Wheeler was pegged wrong, yes I think we are all happy to say thank God we were wrong about this clown. Now, everyone is throwing caution to the wind and saying let this guy sort it out.

    Have you seen the new rules? Have you read them? This is how the rules read.

    "If FCC feels that an entity is not being neutral, then they can fine them"

    There is no place in law for anyone FEELING like anything. What is neutral or not MUST BE WELL DEFINED and it is not! The power we give this guy is the power we are also giving the Dingo we thought he was.

    Wheeler is not the end all or be all of this agency, and we are talking about the very agency that helped create this fucking mess to begin with. So yea, lets give Wheeler some respect for having some spine and trying to do what looks like the right or best thing... but lets tell him that the power he seeks is BULLSHIT!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 14 Mar 2016 @ 7:36am

    Get This Man a Thesaurus

    My heart has always been with the insurgents...
    Even if you believe that Comcast and AT&T would be well served by a little "terror" from the FCC, this may not be the best word choice, Tom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AY, 14 Mar 2016 @ 7:41am

    Wheeler wanes, Ajit waxes full

    Any news story about Big Wheelie-T's non-dingoness should also note that Ajit Pai is the actual dingo, going from rowhouse to housing complex in DC, driven by a ravenous need to consume the flesh of infants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    beech, 14 Mar 2016 @ 8:30am

    0 rating could be fun

    What would happen if a VPN paid to be 0 rated? Free data forever? I think that would be a HUGE selling point for that VPN. It would probably also encourage people to use VPNs who would otherwise be uninterested!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    HegemonicDistortion (profile), 14 Mar 2016 @ 8:39am

    As I recall, Wheeler's initially floated plan permitted paid prioritization (possibly with some theoretically good aspects), prompting Obama's public call for net neutrality. To his credit though, once he came over to the light side he's done pretty well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2016 @ 9:39am

    Considing the alternatives, At least Wheeler is taking us in the right direction.

    So far Tom Wheeler appears to be steering the ship in the right direction. I was convinced he would head us all into an iceberg when he took over. Comcast and the other ISPs have so far been obstructed in their desires to apply the failing cable TV model to the internet, and the FCC has fought to overturn state laws sponsored by ALEC with the backing of the broadband industry that were intended to prevent municipalities from creating their own broadband service by making the process too difficult and expensive.

    Least us forget that the CEO of Comcast came out and likened bits of information and how it should be metered to that of electricity and gas.

    Did I want the ISP's with their local monopolies to be regulated to the point where they have to ask permission to take a shit? Yes I did. Am I happy that Wheeler has make it harder for them to shit on me personally? Again, going to have to answer Yes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    committees, 14 Mar 2016 @ 1:45pm

    None of us are as dumb as all of us

    Enough said. He'll never accomplish much and when he's gone it can all be walked back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    morganwick (profile), 14 Mar 2016 @ 3:46pm

    Wheeler never stopped being a dingo

    He only supported Title II and ditched his initial pro-paid-prioritization proposal after Obama stepped in and after a million comments supporting it swamped the FCC. He started acting like a Title II true believer so he wouldn't be too blatant a charlatan and to get the Title II supporters off his back and thinking he's a great guy after all. But he still made sure to leave two gaping holes to completely undermine those rules, he's "taking on" the cable companies on set-top boxes which he's statutorially mandated to do and which the free market will take care of anyway instead of taking on more important anti-competitive conduct, and he's rushing through an incentive auction that will destroy broadcasting right when it should be becoming the most relevant it's been in decades, thus ensuring people are reliant on cable for all their entertainment needs and possibly preventing net neutrality from ever being viable long-term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 14 Mar 2016 @ 10:23pm

    I actually think that beyond all the net neutrality stuff up front, he is actually still an industry dingo who is letting them set up larger scale ways around the whole neutrality issue.

    The FCC made a pretty big mistake by more or less defining the net neutrality issue on the basis of interconnection and not having traffic preferences. If you want true neutrality, it has to go right to the customer's connection. The FCC version seems to end at the ISP's "head end" (not bell end, different story that!). It means that within their own network they are still pretty much free to do what they want.

    The results I think will be an increase in ISP operated content services. Services that originate inside the ISP and don't use transit or interconnect points would appear not to have to follow any neutrality rules, which means making a Netflix competitor without customers having to pay bandwidth, deal with clogged interconnect points, and get fast local download speeds may be the best way to get things done.

    It could also be the basis of services offered as "Service by Comcast" where a company partners with Comcast (example) to have servers and equipment inside their garden, away from the full on internet. it could very much change the way the public uses the net and what services live or die in the future.

    So don't praise Wheeler too hard, he may in fact sold you a pig in the poke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2016 @ 1:27pm

    Wheeler is a centerist in a dabate

    framed so off-center it is outside in the yard.

    FCC regs have not articulated much of anything that would facilitate attaching the 1st, or 4th, or 3rd amendments to the ORIGIN of any data.

    So while their arguments may sound centerist, the regulations create entropy that now must be overcome before actually ever getting to any real debate. So it is a cute sandbag. But it is still a sandbag. Not a ladder. Not a rope. Not a map.

    Cute sandbags are better than saddling the Constitution with concrete shoes. But I am not about to lavish the guy with praise.

    Fuck it. Let it burn. I still have my V.42bis. Anyone know if FIDONET is still up?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.