MWC 2015: FCC's Tom Wheeler Defends Net Neutrality In Keynote Speech

By Christian de Looper | Mar 04, 2015 05:28 PM EST

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, gave a rather passionate keynote speech about net neutrality at the Mobile World Congress 2015, defending net neutrality and the rules that were recently voted on by the FCC.

Wheeler argued that the Internet needed a referee to help decide on which practices from carriers are just and which aren't. Net neutrality is the idea that all information gets treated equally, with no blocking content or throttling transmission speeds.

"The basic question comes down to this, and that is, if the Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform in this history of the planet, which I believe it is, can it exist without a referee?" said Wheeler during his presentation. "That there needs to be a referee with a yardstick, or a meter stick here, [is] just and reasonable."

Wheeler has attended the MWC for many years before as leader of the CTIA, The Wireless Association, formally known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association. This year, however, was a bit different, with Wheeler being tasked with explaining the FCC's vote, a tough job in a room full of wireless executives.

Under the new rules, the FCC will reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service, including mobile Internet, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Those against the reclassification suggest that it will slow innovation and could even cause rate regulation by the FCC. The FCC, however, has said that it does not intend to regulate how much the Internet costs.

Wheeler went on to explain that in 1993, when he was head of the CTIA, Congress voted to have wireless voice be regulated as a common carrier under Title II. Many regulations were not enforced under the rules. These regulations, Wheeler said, have worked great for the wireless industry.

Under the rules, carriers will not have to ask the FCC every time they want to introduce a new product or service, but they can ask the FCC for an "advisory opinion" on whether a new service will meet regulatory standards.

The new rules were largely well-received by the general public, but mobile carriers weren't too happy with the FCC's decision, largely because it prevents them from being able to create "Internet fast lanes," where different fee levels can be charged for faster transmission service.

Wheeler also spoke about the recent mobile spectrum auction, which ended up producing a whopping $44.9 billion in winning bids.

"I don't think that any of the CFOs of the companies that were bidding fell off the turnip truck," said Wheeler at the event. "Everybody bids to a budget. Everybody bids to a plan. And the plan is, what can I generate in revenue, in EBITDA?" EBITDA is Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, an approximate measure of a company's operating cash flow.

Photo Credit: Alex Wong | Getty Images

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