FCC's Wheeler defends commission's opposition to M&A, hints at stricter approach to net neutrality in wireless

LAS VEGAS--During a keynote appearance here at the Super Mobility Week show, FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler defended the commission's opposition to AT&T's attempt to acquire T-Mobile US, and more recently the FCC's resistance to Sprint's reported efforts to merge with T-Mobile. Wheeler also hinted that the commission is seriously considering applying stricter net neutrality guidelines on wireless carriers.

ctia fcc tom wheeler


On competition, Wheeler said that the FCC's efforts to retain four nationwide wireless carriers have been a boon to wireless users. "The American consumer has been the beneficiary: new pricing and new services that have been spurred by competition," he said.

"I know that achieving scale is good economics, and that there is a natural economic incentive to accrue ever-expanding scale," he said. "We will continue to be skeptical of efforts to achieve scale through the consolidation of major players."

Wheeler also offered some hints at his thinking on the FCC's approach to implementing new net neutrality guidelines. The agency is currently working to issue new net neutrality rules after a court ruling struck down some parts of the agency's initial 2010 net neutrality guidelines. In its original guidelines, the FCC drew a line between wired and wireless networks, leaving room for wireless operators to have more flexibility in how they can manage and control their networks due to the limited amount of spectrum and bandwidth they have to use.

However, Wheeler hinted that the agency may take a stricter approach to its forthcoming net neutrality rules for wireless.

"The basic issue that is raised is whether the old assumptions upon which the 2010 rules were based match new realities," Wheeler noted, explaining that LTE is now a widespread technology, unlike in 2010, and today there are far more smartphones and tablets on wireless networks.

Wheeler also pointed to his recent move to question wireless operators around their network management policies. Specifically, Wheeler recently took issue with Verizon Wireless' move to impose speed-throttling policies on some of its unlimited data customers.

"Recently, I sent letters to the four national wireless providers, asking them about their network management practices. We are very concerned about the possibility that some customers are being singled out for disparate treatment even though they have paid for the capacity that is being throttled. And we are equally concerned that customers may have been led to purchase devices relying on the promise of unlimited usage only to discover, after the device purchase, that they are subject to throttling," Wheeler said. "I am hard pressed to understand how either practice, much less the two together, could be a reasonable way to manage a network. Our Open Internet proceeding will look closely at both the question of what is 'reasonable' and the related subject of how network management practices can be transparent to consumers and edge providers."

Wheeler said that the commission is still accepting comments on its Open Internet proceeding, and would take those comments into account in its eventual move toward imposing net neutrality guidelines on wired and wireless networks.

For more:
- see this Wheeler speech

Related Articles:
FCC's Wheeler: Operators need to 'show up' for 600 MHz incentive auction
FCC's Wheeler lays out plan to draw broadcasters into 600 MHz incentive auction
FCC pushing 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction to mid-2015
FCC's Wheeler signals intent to let smaller carriers get more spectrum