Tom Wheeler gave students at Ohio State University a lesson in political savvy today in his first policy speech since he became FCC chairman last month. His address alternately preached the virtues of small government, and public interest advocacy — especially on the controversial question of the FCC’s role in regulating the Web. Tom Wheeler“What the Internet does is an activity where policy makers must be judiciously prudent and should not be involved,” he says. But the longtime industry lawyer and former lobbyist left the FCC a lot of wiggle room to advance what he calls the “Network Compact” to promote communications accessibility, interconnection, and public safety and security. His idea of accessibility “means the ability of [Internet] users to access all lawful content on a network,” he says — adding that’s why the FCC “adopted enforceable rules to preserve the Open Internet.” The FCC needs to be the public’s representative in a transition to what he calls “the fourth network revolution” following the development of the printing press, railroads, and the telegraph. The Internet “is not a law-free zone. It depends upon standards of conduct. And it depends on the ability of the government to intervene in the event of aggravated circumstances.”

Wheeler particularly wants to promote competition in communications. “Congress has given us tools to accomplish this goal. We will use those tools in a fact-based, data-driven manner.” To that end, he talked up the FCC’s effort to coax TV stations to contribute their airwave spectrum to an auction designed to boost capacity for wireless broadband. Wheeler also signaled that the FCC won’t rubber stamp mergers. After regulators blocked AT&T’s effort to buy T-Mobile “look at what happened…T-Mobile and Sprint have been able to attract significant investment capital to build out their networks and increase competition in the mobile industry.”