Silicon Valley Weighs in on Wheeler

By: Mike Montgomery
As seen in the Huffington Post 

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Or at least there soon will be as the Senate is likely to give Tom Wheeler the nod as FCC Chairman. Wheeler, former chief executive of the National Cable and Television Association and, most recently, a venture capitalist, seems to have left a good impression during this week’s Senate hearing. As Tony Romm reported in Politico:

The initial takeaway from a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday is that Wheeler’s background as a cable and wireless lobbyist — once considered by some a liability — might instead prove valuable at the helm of the nation’s top telecom agency.

During the Senate hearing, Wheeler said his extensive business experience would “make me a better chairman,” and he will surely need to tap into that experience if his tenure is going to be an effective one. Wheeler will be taking the reins of the FCC during a fascinating and challenging time. Gone are the days when the Commission’s biggest worries were wardrobe malfunctions during live broadcasts. Today’s FCC faces a number of critical decisions that will have a profound effect on the powerhouse that is America’s tech industry.

For Silicon Valley especially, Wheeler’s steerage will be important to keep an eye on. One of his chief concerns must be fostering an environment that continues to inspire innovation and investment for the greater good. Or, as Nick Allen, co-founder of SideCar, told me, “Wheeler should be pro-innovation and make sure Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have the ability and tools to implement new ideas and new technologies to solve problems.”

Here, in no particular order (because they’re all equally important), are some of the issues Wheeler and his Commission will be tackling in the coming years.

Clearing the Air

The FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction is aimed at providing wireless companies with the airwaves they desperately need to provide service to their smartphone-addicted customers. Revenues from the auction will help fund FirstNet, the nationwide interoperable public safety network for first responders.

Wheeler can go a long way toward keeping our mobile market booming by ensuring that every qualified bidder can participate without restrictions. This will also help maximize auction revenue that can help the federal government will raise the money to fully fund FirstNet.

Speeding IP

The day when America’s networks are all-Internet based is coming. The only question is when.

Wheeler and the FCC can help accelerate the expansion of next-generation broadband networks — and encourage further adoption of current and future technologies– by focusing on creating a smart regulatory environment. An environment that encourages the private sector investment needed to upgrade networks with a regulatory framework better suited for the Internet age.

Technology guru Kim Polese, Chairman of ClearStreet, is a champion for increased next-gen broadband deployment across the country. “Chairman-nominee Wheeler can help ensure our nation’s prosperity by prioritizing the implementation of a ubiquitous, high speed, affordable national broadband infrastructure, which will help to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship and drive economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans,” said Polese.

Easing Transactions

The FCC’s spectrum auctions will offer some relief for congested wireless networks. So will President Obama’s recent focus on freeing up some federal spectrum for consumers to use for mobile broadband.

Unfortunately, both initiatives are going to take more time than most would like. In the meantime, wireless providers, who are already facing clogged networks, need the flexibility to work together in order to meet the needs of their customers.

That’s why it’s important for Wheeler’s FCC to ease the regulatory hurdles for free market spectrum deals that will help ensure providers can meet consumer demand more quickly.

Glad-handing the Tech Community

Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski left some big shoes to fill, especially when it comes to working with the tech community in Silicon Valley and beyond.

With technology increasingly becoming a driving force in America’s economy, the FCC needs to work with tech companies big and small in order to put forward policies that benefit both the tech ecosystem and consumers. As Topher Conway, a Partner at famed venture fund SV Angel, told me, “Wheeler needs to make sure he reaches out to Silicon Valley in order to understand the unique problems we face. That way he can help solve those problems in Washington.”

Serial entrepreneur Jamie Daves, Founder and CEO of LearnerX, was specific about one of those unique problems. “The emerging era often labeled the ‘Internet of Things’ will put unprecedented pressure on the FCC as an avalanche of new, connected devices come into the market,” Daves told me. “Chairman Wheeler should lead in reforming the application and approval process so that consumers can benefit from these new products and services, and companies can rely on a timely and efficient system.”

Freeing up more spectrum for consumers, enabling the transition to all-Internet based networks, and working collaboratively with the tech industry to ensure an investment-friendly framework — there’s no doubt Wheeler’s dance card will certainly be full if he is confirmed to lead FCC. But by putting forward a manageable, tech-focused agenda, he can oversee a Commission that continues to encourage private investment, spur further innovation, and grow the economy. It won’t be easy, but Wheeler appears to be the right man for the job.