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TechTank

FCC’s Wheeler is No Shrinking Violet

Darrell M. West

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler does not think small. Since he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November, he has laid out an ambitious agenda to transform telecommunications and move the country fully into the information age. Over the past months since he took office, he has launched several major initiatives on protecting competition, channel sharing, improving access, helping students, ensuring an open Internet, and adapting regulation to 21st century markets.

Wheeler Predicts Fourth Network Revolution

This week, he came to Brookings for a Hamilton Project forum to discuss several of his ideas for moving America forward. Foremost among the items is the need to free up spectrum for wireless applications. Speaking about the issue, the Chairman praised the emergence of what he called the fourth network revolution for wireless connectivity of computer devices (the successor wave to the printing press, railroad, and telegraph). 

He predicted that the upcoming incentive auction and sharing technology would “revolutionize the way we manage our air waves” and promote economic growth and innovation in education, health care, energy, and transportation. At this point, he said the task was to remove unnecessary obstacles that limit advances and ensure the availability of ingredients to modern networks, such as wireless spectrum.

Plans for Spectrum Auction

Congress has given the FCC the authority to hold an incentive auction. Wheeler believes the upcoming auction would address the economic roots of spectrum policy and “match the economics of demand with the economics of current spectrum resources.” Wheeler described this as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for broadcasters” to continue their current business model while repurposing under-utilized spectrum. The biggest uncertainty at this time is how many licensed broadcasters would participate in the auction and how much spectrum the FCC would free up for unlicensed uses. He described himself as a “huge proponent of unlicensed spectrum.”

His roadmap for moving forward is the 2012 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report. It laid out three tiers of priorities (federal and non-federal uses, priority access licenses, and general authorized uses) and called for flexible band uses that “don’t balkanize spectrum into sub-bands with their own rules.”  Fifteen months from now, his hope is that the PCAST report has become a reality.

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