Besuited and nuanced Tom Wheeler – chairman of US regulatory body the Federal Communications Commission – is proud of last week's vote on net neutrality. At an appearance onstage at Mobile World Congress tonight, Wheeler said: "President Obama and I are long-time supporters of net neutrality. If the internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform in the history of the planet (and I think it is), can it exist without a referee? That's the structure we have put in place, not a regulatory structure."
While the legislation for net neutrality is rooted in Title 2 rules that date from the 1930s, Wheeler rejected the notion that it is outmoded. "We built our model for net neutrality on a 1993 model for wireless carriers to regulate them as common carriers instead of old monopoly-era thinking", he said.
Wheeler said the new rules were reasonable as they would apply on a "case-by-case – as far from monopoly as you can get. The concept of 'just and reasonable' is long-established and will be the yardstick we will look at on a case-by-case basis. We do not want to impose decisions, we want networks to be profitable [with a healthy] revenue stream".
"It's case-by-case: only four regulations, and a yardstick", declared Wheeler. "This is no more regulating the Net than the First Amendment [to the US Constitution] is regulation of free speech. We remain absolutely steadfast in opposition to government structures. We are for an open internet".
On a recent spectrum auction Stateside that garnered a record $45 billion, Wheeler said: "Business decisions are based on what you can earn on the spectrum, not the purchase price. Everybody bids to a budget and a plan. The US leads the world in 4G because of wise spectrum policies, and we want investment because we want to remain the world leader."
The FCC chief added that the next spectrum auction in the works is a planned reverse auction of broadcast spectrum which will be resold to wireless carriers. He said the auction will begin in Q1 2016.
He pointed out that as spectrum is finite, spectrum-sharing is an exciting new development. "I was at the Nokia booth today watching a spectrum-sharing demonstration", he said. "Incumbents can continue to use spectrum and share … this is the future of spectrum usage and policy".