Wheeler: 'I'm following Reagan's advice' on set-top regulation

Speaking at the House Energy and Commerce Committee's broader oversight hearing focused on the FCC Tuesday, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler seemed aware he was talking to a committee led by Republicans.

"I am following President Reagan's good advice, 'trust, but verify," Wheeler said to the committee regarding a recent pay-TV industry counter-proposal to his set-top regulation plan. 

In his remarks, Wheeler seemed to acknowledge that the counter proposal carries more momentum at this point than his original "Unlock the Box" NPRM. 

"I'm heartened to see the industry and other stakeholders want to tackle the issue with various proposals," he said. "As I've said from the beginning of the process, I'm open to all constructer feedback and proposals from all stakeholders to ensure we reach the best possible result — real competition for consumers."

Before ratifying the cable industry's apps-based "Ditch the Box" plan, however, Wheeler said the industry must clarify its proposal and show a clear path to following through with it. 

"I appreciate that the industry has come to the table," he said. "Everyone can agree that consumers should be empowered to watch TV how they want, with the device, app, or interface that they choose. We need to understand more of the details of its proposal, as well as the perspectives of all of the other stakeholders. We need to ensure that consumer privacy is protected; that copyright protections and the interests of programmers are protected.  We need to ensure that competition and innovation is empowered.  And, of course, we need to ask, as always, whether Commission action will fulfill the Congressional mandate that you all sent to us."

Wheeler's remarks — delivered to press by the FCC in advance of Tuesday's hearing — comes amid what was also expected to be an oversight barrage rendered by lawmakers.

"These proposals have the potential to harm the very sectors they are attempting to preserve and stimulate, and concerns continue to grow from both sides of the aisle," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton was expected to say in his opening statement. 

Regarding his controversial plan to regulate internet service providers on broadband privacy, Wheeler said, "We propose to require that broadband providers give consumers the tools they need to make smart choices about protecting their information. The proposal does not prohibit ISPs from using or sharing customer data.  It simply proposes that consumers receive notice of their providers' privacy practices and give consent before ISPs use or share that data.

Meanwhile, on another NPRM aimed at regulating business services, he said, "In many areas, however, competition in the supply of business data services remains limited, and that can translate into higher prices for wireless networks and then higher prices for consumers. Lack of competition doesn't just hurt the deployment of wireless networks today, it also threatens to delay the buildout of 5G networks with its demand for many, many more backhaul connections to many, many more antennae."

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