FCC Chair Tom Wheeler Asserts Independence, After Obama Weighs in on Net Neutrality
It seems Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is saying "thanks, but no thanks" to President Obama's Net Neutrality advice.
This week, President Barack Obama weighed in on how he thinks the FCC should regulate the Internet, expressing support for Net Neutrality and regulating Internet service providers like utility companies.
The FCC is in the process of re-adjusting its Open Internet rules, which previously enforced something similar to Net Neutrality -- the principle that ISPs should be transparent, non-discriminatory in what traffic they allow and at what speed. But these rules were struck down in court earlier this year due to having an unstable regulatory foundation. Since then, two major options have been debated for the new Open Internet rules, the regulatory shorthand being that using "Title II" would use strong regulation and "Section 706" would use a lighter touch.
Many Net Neutrality advocates have argued for Title II, with ISPs on the other side. Obama did too, saying, "I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act," in his statement on Net Neutrality this week.
But Wheeler is of a different mind, it seems, when it comes to regulating the companies that provide the Internet to Americans. As we previously reported, Wheeler floated the idea of a "hybrid" strategy to regulate an Open Internet, using Title II to control companies and deals on the back-end infrastructure of the net more tightly, and Section 706 to regulate ISPs' relationships with consumers.
The hybrid strategy has been liked by virtually no one, though details are not available about just how the FCC would enforce Net Neutrality. But that's not stopping Wheeler from asserting his independence and slightly rebuffing the currently unpopular President who appointed him.
In a Monday meeting with big web companies like Google and Yahoo, as reported by The Washington Post, the reportedly visibly frustrated Wheeler talked about his still-preliminary plans to try to regulate Net Neutrality on the Internet, while keeping ISPs and tech companies innovating and investing in the Internet, as well.
"What you want is what everyone wants: An open Internet that doesn't affect your business," said Wheeler according to WaPo. "What I've got to figure out is how to split the baby," he continued, echoing the (negative) Solomonesque analogy the media immediately used to label Wheeler's hybrid approach.
Wheeler also asserted his independence, according to WaPo's sources: "I am an independent agency," said Wheeler during the meeting. To be fair, Obama, himself, mentioned as much (though he didn't mistake Wheeler for the place that he works) in his Net Neutrality statement. Still, Wheeler's comments in the closed-door meeting come across as much stronger response than Wheeler's official statement regarding Obama's entry into the Net Neutrality debate:
"As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President's submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding," wrote Wheeler in his official response. "We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act."
Wheeler then went on to describe his hybrid approach and how it might finally set Open Internet rules -- which have been in a state of flux for the past decade -- for "once and for all."
According to Ars Technica, spokespeople for the FCC have disputed the characterization of Wheeler's comments, saying that "all options are still on the table" and that Wheeler has not drawn any conclusions yet at this point in the process.
It's easy to imagine, though, that Wheeler -- besieged on all sides of the Net Neutrality debate -- might have found Obama's late entry into the fray rather unhelpful.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!