In his first appearance as FCC Chairman at an NAB show, Tom Wheeler was very smooth.
His main message to attendees in the packed ballroom here in Las Vegas was to reassure broadcasters that the FCC is about facilitating innovation, and is not “against” television with the agency’s plan to auction some broadcast spectrum voluntarily to carve out more room for broadband use and then repack the TV spectrum.
“We’re pro competition. The focus is let’s go there rather than fight yesterday’s battles,” said Wheeler.
The chairman drew a loud laugh from the audience when he said as proof that he’s “a believer in broadcast television,” he installed an over-the-air roof antenna at his daughter’s house recently after she told him her cable bill was too high.
The one radio question moderator NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith had for the chairman concerned enabling FM chips in cellphones and would Wheeler’s commission have any sway with the carriers, especially given Wheeler’s background as former head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.
The chairman didn’t commit one way or another, noting that, “One of the challenges of this job is realities that existed last week won’t exist next week. So we are in the middle of trying to come to grips with how you handle the IP transition in the wired world and wireless world.”
Regarding the times that cell towers lose power during a disaster, leaving radio as a secure source of emergency information to consumers, Wheeler did acknowledge “we ought to be having that debate [about] safety in the 21st century. We’ve got to look at the broad aspects” of the issue.