Discussing his role in last month’s Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality decision, FCC Chairman and Ohio State alumnus Thomas Wheeler returned to Columbus to discuss how this technological debate will impact students at his alma mater.
“I believe that the result will be overwhelmingly positive for consumers and innovators,” Wheeler said. “I also firmly believe it is a positive as well for network operators who now have regulatory certainty with no impact on their consumer revenue streams.”
Wheeler spoke at the OSU Moritz College of Law symposium on “The Future of Internet Regulation” on Friday and was adamant that the new regulations were the right choice.
“For more than a decade, the Commission has grappled with the issue of how best to preserve Internet openness,” Wheeler said. “The question has not been whether to protect and promote an open Internet — that has been the bipartisan policy of Republican and Democratic chairs alike — but how best to achieve that objective. Last month, the FCC moved to settle this dispute once and for all, adopting the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the Commission.”
The FCC’s Open Internet Order was “designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks,” according to the FCC website.
The new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband service. They state Internet service providers cannot block, slow down or prioritize specific content.
Peter Shane, the OSU Moritz College of Law Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, said critics argue that the new net neutrality rules will limit potential profitability of the Internet for service providers. Fewer profits will mean less investment in the infrastructure, he said, which will work to the detriment of consumers. However, Shane said he doesn’t agree with these arguments.
“If there were more competition between Internet service providers, then maybe I would be more confident in the marketplace to yield pro-consumer behavior,” Shane said.
Wheeler said it’s obvious that service providers have one objective, and that is to operate “free from control by their customers and free from oversight from government.”
“If they succeed, then, for the first time in America’s communications history, private gatekeepers will have unfettered power to control commerce and free expression,” Wheeler said. “The true choice is between protecting the gatekeepers or protecting consumers and insurgents who wish to boost the greatest strength of America’s economy, namely innovation.”
Shane said he sees the new regulations as having a high degree of generality, which is a good thing.
“From my point of view, the rules that the FCC has adopted, which have a high degree of generality, seem to be consistent with the goal of user innovation, and therefore I like them,” Shane said.
In addition to speaking with students about his job, Wheeler also took the opportunity to reflect on his time at OSU in an interview with The Lantern.
Wheeler graduated from the OSU Fisher College of Business in 1968 and said he showed a knack for business from a young age.
“I was right here in Columbus and this university is what we could afford,” Wheeler said. “I have always been a fierce Buckeye. When I was growing up, I ran my own little business where I printed up pennants and such with the Ohio State logo and sold them at football games. I would sell them to the point where I made enough money to go to a scalper to buy a ticket and go to the game.”
His love of OSU football has not diminished a bit, and Wheeler said he has even spread that love internationally.
He brought his daughter’s husband, who was a professional rugby player from Ireland with a mindset that there is no sport as exciting as rugby, to an OSU football game. After bringing him to the ‘Shoe, Wheeler said, they still have arguments over which is the better sport, but his son-in-law clearly believes that OSU football is the better spectacle. Wheeler said it got to the point that when his son-in-law’s parents first came to the United States to visit, their trip was scheduled around the OSU football schedule.
Though a lot has changed since Wheeler’s time at OSU, the structural development is by far the greatest, he said.
“The tremendous building going on here at OSU is the biggest change,” Wheeler said. “I graduated from Fisher College and we used to be in Hagerty Hall and now there is that great Fisher campus. I was also very involved in student activities at the Ohio Union, and now of course there is a brand new Ohio Union.”
Though the reason for Wheeler’s visit was the symposium on the new Open Internet Order, he said there was one thing he wanted OSU students to know.
“I am very disappointed with the number of OSU students who are in Washington in internships and clerkships,” Wheeler said. “I am going to be meeting with the dean of the business school to specifically say the door is open. We want Fisher College interns at the FCC and I hope other students will come too. We are responsive and there are great opportunities and we have our door wide open for students of Ohio State.”