Ina Fried

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New FCC Boss Tom Wheeler Says He Represents the People, Not the Tech Industry (Interview)

When Tom Wheeler was named in May to lead the Federal Communications Commission, some consumer groups fretted that the former cable- and wireless-industry lobbyist would favor industry over individuals.

Wheeler, who started the job earlier this month, insists that won’t be the case.

“My client today is the American people, and I am going to be the most effective advocate they could hope for,” Wheeler told AllThingsD in a phone interview on Wednesday.

At the same time, Wheeler said that he is also very proud of his time spent representing industry groups.

“I was [involved in] the early days of cable television when everybody was trying to squash it; I was a champion for a diversity of voices and the competition that represented,” he said. “I’m very proud of that period, but it was 30 years ago that I was in cable, and 10 years ago that I was in wireless.”

Wheeler, who took over the chairmanship after a long-awaited Senate confirmation, has an eclectic background that includes writing books on the Civil War and its impact on technology and communications, and time working in venture capital, as well as his earlier lobbying days.

In forming decisions, Wheeler said he will view issues through three lenses.

First, he said, he will look at whether a proposed move is good for competition. Second, actions should maintain the compact of trust between those who run networks and those who use them. His third principle is that opening up high-speed networks isn’t enough — the content needs to be open and accessible to all.

Asked whether he supports the notion of Net neutrality, Wheeler spoke more broadly about how he views competition.

“You can’t have economic growth if you don’t have competition,” he said. “You can put me down as rabidly pro-competition,” Wheeler said.

He also said that access to networks is critical, whether it is for those in rural areas, or those with disabilities, or those looking for specific content. (Wheeler met Wednesday with a variety of groups representing Americans with disabilities in his first meeting with outside interests.)

So, does that mean you are pro Net neutrality?

“I am pro the ability of individuals to access an open network,” he said.

Another important characteristic that Wheeler said he has learned in his study of history and his time working with entrepreneurs is the need for a willingness to take risks. Too often, Wheeler said, those in public policy-making positions put off action out of fear of failure.

“You take reasonable risks,” he said. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to take risks.”

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