FCC set for February net neutrality vote; incentive auction set for 2016

FCC set for February net neutrality vote; targets incentive auction in early 2016

08 JAN 2015

LIVE FROM CES 2015: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that a vote on the issue of net neutrality will take place next month, while he reiterated that the planned, but delayed, “incentive auction” of spectrum is likely to take place early in 2016.

With net neutrality of special interest to mobile operators, the regulator said: “We’re going to propose rules that say no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritisation, all of that list of issues. And that there is a yardstick against which behaviour should be measured, and that yardstick is ‘just and reasonable’.”

“What we are hoping to put in place is a ‘just and reasonable’ standard that you look at and ask, ‘is this just and reasonable?’ and make a decision,” he continued.

While Wheeler hinted as to the direction the FCC will take, he also cautioned: “You notice that I have not answered on any of the specifics of how you do it. Here is the conceptual structure, you’ve got to wait until February to see the specifics.”

The FCC chairman also played down reports of a dispute with the Obama administration. “There was an effort made to say that the FCC and the president were pulling in opposite directions on this, which made for good headlines, but it wasn’t exactly reality. We are both pulling in the same direction, which is no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritisation, and transparency,” he said.

The guidelines will be circulated among the FCC commissioners on 5 February, with a vote set for 26 February. “We are down to the short strokes on this, and it has been an interesting process. That’s an understatement.”

Incentive auction
With regard to the delayed incentive auction process, Wheeler said that “it’s obviously been disappointing the way that broadcasters have slowed things down by filing suits.”

“Hopefully this will be argued in March, decided in May or June. I think the position that we are advocating is that the broadcasters’ request for a delay and to change things is without merit, and we will move forward after that to develop a final set of rules,” he observed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bumper receipts from the government’s latest spectrum auction has also “whet the taste of broadcasters”.

“What they are sitting on is of immense value that they can realise. They have a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in the incentive auction, and to do that without losing the business they are already in. That is incredibly important,” he said.

And Wheeler also quashed the idea that operators have been a little too eager with their wallets, which could impact future auction levels.

“That amount that has been paid, reflects a whole new reality in terms of revenue, EBITDA, cash flow in the wireless space. The CFOs of these companies that are bidding didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.”

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Steve Costello

Steve works across all of Mobile World Live’s channels and played a lead role in the launch and ongoing success of our apps and devices services. He has been a journalist...More

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