McAdams On: Wheeler’s Wheedle

I walked out of Tom Wheeler’s speech beside a broadcast attorney shaking his head, saying, “he seems so nice.” The FCC chairman had just delivered a keynote at the NAB Show, and in true-rock-star- rather-than-public-servant-fashion, he was whisked out of the room faster than a president under threat level whatever. Which was ironic, given his posture regarding this Administration’s crusade to kick broadcasters off the spectrum and further consolidate public airwaves.

“The FCC is simply carrying out the will of Congress,” he said. “There is no conspiracy.”

He’s just a guy doing a job. It’s not personal. Really. He even put money into broadcasting once; into mobile DTV. (Woops.)

Look, he said with the confidence of a man surrounded by no-neck dudes cleaning their fingernails with switchblades, the spectrum incentive auction is voluntary. Those orders to unbundle the retrans negotiations that cable operators requested and unwind joint service agreements? Forgot those came just four months into his tenure as chairman and slashed roughly 15 to 20 percent off broadcast stock values. Forget about how many of those he has up his sleeve in the next 14 months. This auction is voluntary, he tells ya!

There really wasn’t much new. It was the usual dual mélange about how much he loves broadcasters as first responders—air kiss air kiss—and how the fed is going to squeeze them off the spectrum anyway, because, well…

“Verizon and AT&T are exploring new lines of business based on broadcast LTE. Verizon paid $1 billion for NFL rights What does that tell you? They’re all embracing something that looks startlingly like what you do,” he said.

Except for that it will not be free to anyone, ever, anywhere. Two companies ultimately will own what once were considered public airwaves, and only those who pay them will have access. That leaves out a significant chunk of the voter base that typically rolls Democratic.

This is what’s meant by “the public interest.”

Just fyi.