tv The Communicators Tom Wheeler Fmr. Chairman Federal Communications... CSPAN April 3, 2021 6:29pm-7:00pm EDT
1:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. online at c-span.org. or listen on the free c-span radio app. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we are funded by these companies and more, including media,. >> the world changed in an instant. media com was ready. we never slowed down. schools and businesses went virtual and we powered a new reality because at mediacom, we're built to keep you ahead. >> mediacom supports c-span as a public service, along with other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. peter: and joining us this week on 'the communicators" is the former chairman, tom wheeler.
he was chairman during the obama administration. mr. wheeler, what have you been doing since? tom: first of all, thank you for having me back, peter. since i left the administration, i've been a visiting fellow at the brookings institution and senior fellow at the harvard kennedy school. peter: and what have you been thinking about? tom: well, i've been trying to think about, hopefully, the kind of things we'll be talking about today. where this policy need to be going in the 21st century digital environment? peter: and where do you think it should be going in one aspect? tom: well, the challenge that we face, peter, is that the rules that govern us today were written in the industrial era.
built around industrial practices and industrial management that don't apply anymore in the internet era. how do we update our expectations to reflect the reality? peter: helping us is leah. leah: why do you think the u.s. needs a new agency and white don't the current one for site -- so if -- and why doesn't the current one suffice? tom: multiple reasons, starting with what peter and i were just talking about, that we've got rules that were built around industrial concepts that don't apply anymore. for instance, we created federal agencies, such as the ftc for
instance, to oversee activities in a market that was governed by scope and scale economies that have now been superseded by network effects and the reality that you've got zero marginal cost in the delivery of digital services and other changes. and so we have to reorient around those new realities, number one. number two is that we need statutes that reflect those realities, not the 19th and 20th century's realities were. and number three is we need to think about a new regulatory paradigm. instead of the way regulation has always worked, which the tech companies complain is too
rigid and inhibits investment and innovation, how can we have more agile regulation? and at the same time, still protect competition and consumers? and so we, and it definitely is a "we" because it was us that made this proposal up at harvard , we thought that the best way to do that is to start with a clean slate,a new set of expectations, and a new set of procedures to achieve those expectations. leah: and why do you think it needs to be a new agency as opposed to creating this within an existing one that has some expertise already in this area? tom: well, the first point that we are crystal clear on is we
really expect -- respect the work the ftc does. we really respect the people at the ftc and their dedication. but there are a couple of things that are limitations to the way the ftc operates. first of all is that the ftc has responsibility for so much in the economy. i mean, let's just go through some of the things they've done recently. they've done rules on robo calls. they did hockey puck enabling. they worried about funeral director practices. and they have such a broad scope of responsibility that adding onto that and saying "and now, we're also going to give you the dynamic, fastest growing part of the economy, the engine of the economy of the future and pilot
on there" is one drawback. you know, it's interesting. when i was chairman, we passed net neutrality rules at the fcc at a time when the strategy of the telecom carriers was to get that authority put in the ftc so that it could get lost amongst all the other responsibilities, which is what the trump administration ended up doing. and so we think that just like you have an expert agency for issues around communications, you want to have an expert agency for issues around the digital economy and the way that works. peter: given the fact so much of this digital economy is involved
with telecommunications, would it make more sense for the ftc to evolve its prerogative? tom: that's a really good question, peter, and people keep saying to me, why didn't you do something about this when you were chairman of the fcc? and the answer is because we didn't have jurisdiction. we had jurisdiction over the networks, but not products those networks deliver. i think that it is still a separable kind of issue, with one exception. and that is that what we're seeing is what the technologists called her, of the stack. you used to think about networks and services in terms of you have the transportation layer of the network, and then you would move up the stack through different kinds of functions until you finally got the application. well, the reality is the network
and the application are now today both zeros and ones. and so they are beginning to collapse. but i think what we need to be focusing on is now how does that happen, but what are the effects of the network? what are the effects of the application? and let's deal with those rather than the ins and outs of those zeros and ones. peter: so, that said, is the sec in need of an overhaul? -- fcc in need of an overhaul? tom: oh, i think the fcc has been doing an excellent job. i have some questions about why the trump fcc decided to step back from everything, but i think the fcc has authority to step in and deal with the
network challenges that we are facing, and that it's a matter of leadership. leah: i'd like to expand a little bit on that. there's a number of puzzles -- proposals in congress right now looking to expand. what are your views on that? tom: as you know, i testified on the infrastructure bill. and i think the key thing to that is that, about that bill, is that it says let's go out and build for tomorrow rather than keep building for yesterday and turning around and saying, wait a minute. why don't we have good enough service? there's two aspects here. one is the deployment issue. the fact of the matter is there are too many people, particularly in rural parts of the united states, we don't have access to high-speed internet.
and as a result, can't participate in the 21st century economy. the second aspect is adoption. and the amazing thing is that there are more people who could subscribe to high-speed internet, but don't subscribe than those who can't subscribe because they live in rural areas. and that's principally an issue of economics. and so two of the things that the bill does is to say ok, let's make sure that we take federal subsidy dollars and put them to building fiber networks to future proof everyone in the country for tomorrow and, just like we said during the reagan administration, that it is important to subsidize telephone
service so that low income americans can call 911, we also need to talk about, how do we subsidize broadband service so that low income americans can get on broadband, to go to school -- there are 10 million school-aged kids who, school is shut down during covid, who don't have internet access and can't go to school remotely. 40% of seniors in america don't have internet access, which is essential to being able to get a code shot, for instance -- covid shot, for instance. how do we deal with that issue, by saying just like we did with telephones, we are going to make sure that everyone in america is going to have broadband access? because you can't exist in america without it in the 21st century. peter: you say the lift act provides us -- lift act
authorizes billions in employment in a similar manner to how we built the highway system. the $40 billion has already been spent on subsidies. were those well-placed subsidies? tom: for the last 10 years, the fcc has run what is called a high cost fund, and spending about 40 billion $4 billion year. and it has been building for yesterday's needs rather than tomorrow's realities. and so we were frustrated when we were running the high cost program. so, we did a study. and the question was, how much would it cost to connect all of unserved america with fiber-optic, the best service to you can get?
and -- service you can get? an answer came back, $80 billion. the first half of that, $40 billion, would take care of about 98% of all locations, businesses and residences, in the country, and make sure that they had fiber conductivity. and the last 2% was a real challenge and cost another $40 billion. and that's where that $80 billion number came from. and so we can do it. we ought to spend the money and do it once rather than continue the programs that, thus far, have failed. leah: one of the things you mentioned in your testimony this week was that you think the bills should increase the definitions for minimum broadband speeds. why do you think that's important? tom: don't listen to me on that, but look at what private
companies are doing and where they're putting private dollars. last week, at&t had their analysts meetings and they talked to the analysts about how they were expanding fiberoptics. and they talked to the analysts about why they were doing this and what was happening in the marketplace. here was an example. for instance, today -- these are all at&t statistics -- today, it reaches about 13 connected devices in an american home. by 2025, which is only four years away, it's going to triple almost 235. they talked about how the upload pressure on the network -- so, you send the data down and you
also have to send the data up. the data down has always been significantly higher than the data up. at&t says 2025, it's going to change from today, when it's for every 10 megabits the goes down, there's one megabit that goes up. that's going to stress the network further. and then they talk about how the demand on the network is going to increase from about .3 terabytes today to, in four years, 1.5 terabytes, typically, in a household. so, if you're looking at that and saying we know this incredible demand is coming at us, we ought to build for that. and that's what private money is doing. and so the question i was talking to the congress committee about is, if there is
a responsibility to wisely spend the taxpayer's money, why don't we spend it as wisely as private capital is being spent and build for the needs and future proof this, the most important network of the 21st century? leah: what were your impressions, from your testimony, on the prospects of getting bipartisan buy-in from this? tom: oh, i think it's probably early in the game. and i was disappointed to see how the committee had split. but, you know, chairman pallone and ranking member rogers, i think, can put their heads together and find some common ground on this, and i hope that they do. it's interesting, however, that all 32 members, democratic members of the committee, have
sponsored this bill. that's a good start. peter: tom wheeler, the last time he spent a lot of time at capitol hill was during the chairmanship of the fcc. at the time, net neutrality was a big issue. it looks like it might be making a comeback. tom: i hope so. to be specific, title ii net neutrality, which is a tradition of this country. you know, you and i talked on a previous "communicators" about a book i wrote how abraham lincoln used a telegraph to win the civil war. and in the specific telegraph act of 1860, which was the federal funding of the wire across the country, the congress wrote that there needed to be first-come, first-served,
nondiscriminatory access to this critical pathway. it was the same concept that was then applied to the telephone company. first-come, first-served, nondiscriminatory access. and what net neutrality does is to say the same thing about broadband internet pathways. , first-come, first-served, nondiscriminatory access. that's how economies grow rather than establishing gatekeepers that can say ok, i'm going to rule who gets on this and what the terms are going to be. peter: well, mr. wheeler, we talked recently with the former head technologist at the ftc, and he had written recently that some people think that we have come far enough with technical innovations. they are attacking american
innovation, seeking sweeping regulation, higher taxes, and politicized antitrust enforcement and a better section 230 in a hope that this will paired back big tech. does net neutrality fit into that category? tom: no, and the interesting thing that's going on here, peter, is that the complaint that was made during our term about net neutrality is that it would stifle innovation, and it would stifle investment. but the reality is that, in the period of time when the net neutrality rules work in place, -- were in place, the internet service providers spend more on capital investment than they spent after the trump fcc removed those rules. and it was that capital investment that has allowed us to be successful now during covid when everybody's on zoom
and stressing out the network. and so the point of the matter is that what we tried to deal with was to continue this concept, this basic american concept, of not having gatekeepers for crucial services and encouraging competition among those using those networks. leah: you're highly concerned about the resolution that killed the privacy rules. that's something commissioner brendan carr has brought up as a concern of his in reviving net neutrality. tom: yes, thank you, leah. that's a great question. so, we passed rules about internet privacy for network privacy. you know, the bizarre thing is that i can take this smartphone and i make a telephone call on
it. let's say i call air france to make a reservation. the phone company can't turn around and sell the fact that i was calling air france to some tour operator in paris. but if i use the same device on the same network to go online to the air france website, they can turn around and sell that information. and so what we were saying was there just needs to be parity between using this device for one purpose and another, and it needs to start with protecting the privacy as an affirmative act, not as a "come in later on see if we can fix it by choosing this tool or that'll." -- that
tool." unfortunately, 60, 70 days into the trump administration, congress passed an act that repealed this. and the fascinating thing, as you know, is that the internet companies are now going around saying oh, we need to have some privacy rules. facebook has a multibillion-dollar, you can't escape it campaign, saying we need to have rules to regulate the internet on things like privacy. yet it was facebook and the networks together that convinced the trump administration and the republican congress that they needed to repeal privacy rules. leah: so, the government has yet to name a permanent chair to the fcc. what are your thoughts about who he should name to the chair? in particular, what kind of person do you think we need as a leader for the fcc? tom: well, i think that that's a decision that president biden is
capable of making himself and i hope that he puts in someone who has experience in the field and strong leadership experience. the chairman of the fcc is one of the great jobs in washington. but it's a management challenge. and one of the advantages that i thought i brought to the job, and i'm sure there are people who differ on this, but one of the vantages i thought i brought to the job was that i had run companies. i had run organizations of scale. and that kind of management experience, as opposed to other kinds of experiences, was really helpful to me in managing the agency, of which the chairman is
the ceo. peter: and tom wheeler has served as president and ceo of able industry association, a telephone industry association, the fcc, and several private investment firms, as well. mr. wheeler, we spent a bit of time in our conversation talking about this potential new regulatory paradigm. when it comes to the media, the sec has one set of regulations. the cable industry has one. the broadcast industry has another. and now social media is being looked at for potential regulations. aren't these all publishers and media sources? does it make sense to separate them anymore? tom: well, you know, peter, that's a really good question. the reality of way -- the way
statutes get written is they get written to reflect the times in which they were written. so, the broadcast rules go back to the 1930's. and i believe that there is a linkage between broadcast and online, that -- so, for instance, in my first speech to the national association of broadcasters, the chairman always makes a speech to the broadcasters. and i said, you know, i had come out of being a partner in a venture capital firm that had looked at online news operations. and had decided not to invest for two reasons. one, it needed boots on the ground to cover the news. and two, it needed ongoing promotion, constant reminder.
hey, look at this. and i didn't see that. and i said to the broadcasters, you know, you all can solve that problem. you all have boots on the ground and he spent 20% of your advertising time promoting yourself any way you can promote this. here is an incredible opportunity for broadcasting to move out of the model that was built in the 20th century and bring in critical talents to use in the 21st century and put them together like this and make them work together. unfortunately, the argument you use as a regulator that you hear is one from the broadcasters that says oh, we're facing all of this competition and therefore you must let us consolidate for other kinds of activities. i would hope there would be a
more aggressive, how do we embrace -- and in fact, there are more local news activities and this sort of thing -- but i think it could be going back to collapsing the staff. there's an opportunity for broadcasting. peter: leah? leah: last question, there's a lot of discussion about amending section 230. do think it needs to be amended, and what role should the fcc play in that? tom: well, i was pretty outspoken in saying that i thought what president trump was exposed proposing for the fcc and created as kind of content police was a pretty bad idea. the trump chairman of the fcc says that we had a right to know how people are making their decisions, that thought process. no, i think that's a first amendment protected editorial decision that is not the job of
the fcc. the interesting thing, to go back to peter's previous question about broadcasters and cable operators, is that in order to get there and petition them to do what president trump was asking, the general counsel of the fcc came out with an opinion that, in essence, said oh, you know, section 201 gives the fcc the authority to look at whatever statute says, and to adjust it for the times. and that could mean -- and that would mean, for instance, they could adjust to section 230. but it could also mean they could have an investigation of a broadcaster's decision-making, why cable operator picked this channel and not that channel.
yes, i think section 230 needs to be reformed. exactly how is what the challenge becomes because, as you know, leah, there are two key parts to section 230. c-2 is the one that the sponsors like senator ryden say they were gunning for, which is to protect internet companies from liability when they make an editorial decision. but the preceding sub paragraph, c-1, says, in essence, we'll give a blanket liability protection that eliminates the need to get to c-2 to make that decision. we need to fix that balance. peter: tom wheeler is the former chair of the federal communications commission. he's been our guest on "the communicators" this week.
and our guest reporter has been leah neyland of "politico." thank you both. tom: thank you, peter. thanks, leah. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. >> broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why trevor has invested billions building infrastructure, updating technology, and powering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications supports c-span as a public service. along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> white house chief of staff ron klain spoke about president biden's agenda with politico playbook chief washington correspondent ryan lizza. this conversation is 20 minutes.