TechCrunch writer Alex Wilhelm talked to FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler onstage today at TechCrunch Disrupt NY about the decision to pass new net neutrality regulations, Congressional troubles and Wheeler’s take on the failed Comcast/Time Warner merger.
The main discussion centered around the net neutrality decision and public opinion. The FCC passed new net neutrality regulations in late February to govern how Internet providers handled service. As was pointed out onstage, this was a particularly polarizing subject, with Senator Al Franken calling it the “free speech issue of our time,” and Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz saying this was “Obamacare for the Internet” on the other end of the spectrum.
But the tech community took a particular interest in the discussion, with many tech companies such as Google and Facebook using their influence with the American public to keep a proposed two-tier system from happening.
When asked if he was shocked by the sheer outpouring of comments from the public over net neutrality regulation, Wheeler said it was something to take note of but that this “was not something you make a decision based on bulk,” adding that the discussion over control of the Internet was something personal and that particular discussion was what was significant about it.
The tougher net neutrality rules will officially go into effect June 12. “I do hope that there will be the strongest Internet protections that anyone has ever imagined,” Wheeler said of the changes.
A Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t seem ready to give up the fight, though. A month after the new net neutrality rules were approved, several legal challenges popped up against the decision. Wheeler was asked why he thought this particular body of government seemed to be reacting so violently against him, but Wheeler simply stated, “Well they are doing their job,” and added that he felt confident he would beat the court cases.
I do hope that there will be the strongest Internet protections that anyone has ever imagined. Tom Wheeler
Wheeler was picked for the FCC position that embroiled him in the net neutrality debate by President Obama, but served as a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association in the late 70s and early 80s, back when cable was in its nascent stage. Wheeler said he was an advocate for these “new and innovative” industries at the time. “But I have a different client today,” Wheeler said: “The American people.”
Wheeler also said it was “time to move on” when asked about the Comcast/Time Warner merger. Comcast recently announced the termination of the $45.2 billion merger deal with TWC, bending to regulatory pressure. The deal would have given the two companies significant ownership and influence in programming. It was no surprise when Wheeler said the broken deal was in the best interest of consumers and the right decision for Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
Applause broke out near the end of the discussion when the topic turned to whether Wheeler would be open to serving as the chairman for the next president, to which he replied, “She hasn’t asked me.”