FCC chair Wheeler confuses market competition with Beltway negotiation

by Steve Blum • , , ,

America’s telecommunications lobbyist-in-chief showed up at the CTIA show this morning, full of sunny remarks and gentle chiding for the wireless industry. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who used to hold the top job at CTIA, was clearly coming home.

“It was ten years ago, ten years ago, that I last stood on this stage,” he said. He recalled that when he was up for confirmation of his current assignment, he told U.S. senators he hoped he was a pretty good representative of the mobile telecoms industry. But not anymore, he said with a smile.

“Now I have a new client, the American people,” Wheeler said, adding that his job now is “to aggressively represent the best interest of my client”.

And that’s how he sees his job: primus inter pares amongst Washington’s battalions of industry lobbyists. The guy who brings together the people who really matter – Beltway insiders – and works out a deal that he and they can sell to their clients as the best slice of the pie possible.

Wheeler aggressively played that role this morning, first telling the audience that shortsighted broadcasters are threatening to derail the planned auction of more mobile broadband spectrum, and then urging the wireless industry to put just a little more on the table. “Wireless showing interest in the incentive auction is the predicate to broadcasters showing interest in the auction”, he said.

Translation: I’m the good cop. Make it easy on yourselves and propose a deal that I can sell it to my client, the American people.

The mobile phone industry is at that table. So are broadcasters, cable operators, telephone companies and other industries with deep roots in the Washington way of doing business. As for the rest of us – including community broadband advocates and, at least until recently, most of Silicon Valley – we have Wheeler to look out for our best interests. And tell us that whatever we get is the best that can be done.