Wheeler: Cable needs to welcome competition and change; FCC not so much

BOSTON -- Addressing a depleted, surprisingly docile general assembly crowd today at INTX, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler steered clear from the specifics of three controversial proposals targeting the cable industry.

He instead used the narrative of his own background as a top executive at the cable business' main lobbying group, the NCTA, to describe what he sees as a previously competitive and innovative industry that has lost its way.

"Forty years ago, I was working at the NCTA … that was a long, long time ago, and that was at a point in time where the cable industry was the voice of competition and innovation," Wheeler said. "And in those days, those who didn't want the industry to change were broadcasters, Hollywood and the telephone industry."

The cable industry has steadily beat the drum all week at its signature trade that it has plenty of competition — whether it be in video services, with platforms like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and Hulu, or in the area of special access, against stalwarts like Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE: T).

Speaking in broad terms while being interviewed by CSPN Senior Executive Producer Peter Slen, Wheeler said that his job is to infuse more competition into the industry. 

"Competition is better than regulation, particularly in a fast-moving industry like this," he said. "But government has a role to say, 'Excuse me, first we have to get to competition."

Wheeler reminded the audience of cable industry denizens that he sided last year with the same GOP commissioners who oppose his current proposals on the issue of effective competition for cable operators, a proposal that passed the commission by a margin of 3-2.

"There was competition among video services that no longer warranted regulation against cable companies," he said. "We're now defending that decision in court… That's the same type of process I want to bring to all the other issues."

Ironically, Wheeler dismissed the notion that FCC processes need to be disrupted. On the same stage Tuesday, his four commissioners agreed that procedures for reviewing matters like ISP privacy need to be reformed.

"I am a traditionalist," he said. "There is a reason that the procedures are what they are and have been what they have been for decades. Is there a necessity to change that which has been operating for decades successfully?"

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