New FCC chief is 'rabidly' pro-competition

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, plans to use his post to promote competition in the technology, telecommunications and media industries. 

"We are rapidly pro-competition," Wheeler said in an interview with The Hill Thursday.

He cautioned that the "top-down, thou shalt, the government knows best model" doesn't work.

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But he also argued that the government has a critical role to play in encouraging companies to compete with each other.

"Competition is not something that happens in a vacuum. It's not something that happens all by itself," he said. 

"Therefore the job of an agency like this is how do we protect competition where it exists and how do we promote competition where it might not?"

Wheeler, a former investor and former lobbyist for the cellular and cable industries, took office earlier this week.

One of the most pressing issues confronting him is how to structure the FCC's upcoming auction of spectrum, the frequencies that carry wireless traffic. 

Sprint, T-Mobile and small carriers want the FCC to limit the ability of Verizon and AT&T, the two largest carriers, to bid in the auction. They warn that without caps or limits, Verizon and AT&T could buy enough spectrum to dominate the industry.

But Verizon and AT&T argue that an unrestricted auction would produce the most revenue for the government and that the FCC should not pick winners and losers. 

Wheeler declined to weigh in on the issue, but he emphasized that it is "essential" that the government promote competition through its division of the airwaves. 

Wheeler also did not say how he would respond if a federal appeals court sides with Verizon and strikes down the agency's net neutrality rules, one of the signature achievements of his predecessor, Julius Genachowski.

The rules require Internet providers to treat traffic to all websites equally. 

"We're sitting here anxiously awaiting to see what the courts say," Wheeler said. 

He dismissed concerns that the courts could curb the FCC's power so severely that it could become an outdated agency, unable to regulate modern communications services. 

"I think that the FCC is far from an irrelevant—or far from being threatened with becoming—an irrelevant agency," he said. 

The former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries also rejected accusations that he is hostile to TV broadcasters.

"I think the broadcasters play an incredibly important role in our economy and in our society," he said.

He argued that just because he wants to ensure that the airwaves are used efficiently does not make him anti-broadcaster.

"The way some people turn around and say that's a shot against broadcasters is malarky," Wheeler said.