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CES 2016: Wheeler Predicts “Spectrum Extravaganza”

It’s going to be a spectrum extravaganza when the FCC auction of TV spectrum to Internet providers kicks off in March, Tom Wheeler told Gary Shapiro during a one-on-one sitdown on the first day of CES.

The FCC Chairman sat down with the CTA president and CEO to provide an update on the auction, which Wheeler likened to purchasing beachfront property. According to Wheeler, the auction has generated a great deal of interest from broadcasters, which have the option of selling portions of their spectrum for re-banding and auctioning. Wheeler is so confident in a successful end result that he volunteered to the bookies in this fair city and put his money on it.

This reallocation is necessary as consumers evolve from an analog environment to a digital one, he asserted, as well as key for a successful continuous of the sharing economy currently taking shape.

Shapiro also questioned Wheeler on when the FCC became involved in the matters of Internet privacy, who in turn challenged the notion that this was new turf for the Commission. The evolution of the Internet as the central means of communication has placed it under its purview, and Wheeler also noted that the FCC is working in cooperation with the Federal Trade Commission on the subject of privacy.

With that, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez took a place in the chair to answer her own questions from Shapiro on the matters of privacy and competition. 

The goal of the FTC is not to quash innovation, Ramirez stressed several times, but rather to collect information to make informed decisions and provide advice to policy makers; ensure consumers have the information they need to make appropriate choices in the marketplace; and provide guidance to companies, as well as to monitor for those companies running afoul of the law.

As this sharing economy continues to unfold, and as digital devices make their way into every nook in our homes and on our bodies, data privacy is only growing in importance. “Data is becoming today’s currency,” Ramirez said, “and we need to be aware of what impact it has on consumers.”

The FTC held a workshop to study the sharing economy last year and will release a report this spring. (Examples of companies would be Airbnb, Uber and Lyft.) Although whether recommendation for government action is still TBD, Ramirez said, the main goal was to get a better understanding of the different models being used.

‘We see good, disruptive innovation and competition that we think are good for consumers, but we recognize there might be competition and safety issues,” she said. “Work we’ve done has been to submit comments and provide advice to policy makers that they should look hard and determine if regulation is necessary at all. If it is needed, to then approach regulation in a targeted way so as not to undermine the benefits.”