This week, President Obama finally made good on a promise from his 2008 presidential campaign to support Net Neutrality, or the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated the same by service providers. In a video statement, Obama urged FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to reclassify Internet providers and essentially subject them to greater regulation by the Federal Communications Commission, along the lines of public utilities.
Wheeler, though, seems intent on pursuing his own approach, according to a new report in The Washington Post. The newspaper cites four unnamed sources in quoting comments made by “a visibly frustrated Wheeler” to officials from web companies like Google and Yahoo in a meeting on Monday just hours after Obama issued his video statement.
“What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business,” Wheeler is quoted as saying. “What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.”
At issue in that Solomonic struggle is the question of “net neutrality” — a jargony term that’s used to refer to the concept that Internet service providers should allow Internet traffic to flow freely, without favoring or restricting specific content, applications or services.
Obama’s statement was met with an immediate backlash from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who came up with a politically powerful, if practically empty, soundbite in his attack — one that makes about as much sense as Too Many Cooks, and got similarly significant online play.
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
Political considerations were at play in Obama’s statement, as well, as The Post report describes. The newspaper says the White House was concerned that Wheeler and the FCC were clouding the issue and that the regulator’s efforts to “split the baby” and appease both open-Internet advocates and telecom industry heavyweights would result in rules that were unclear and ineffective. At the same time, administration aides saw an opportunity, The Post reports:
“A key contingent of the president’s base — young, tech-savvy progressives — would be energized by the action, and a strong statement on net neutrality could also help his relationship with congressional Democrats, according to government and industry officials.”
On top of that, the report says the prospect of a fight with Republican in Congress, if they were to vote to overturn the FCC’s regulations, “would put Obama on the side of millions of consumers who have called on the FCC to adopt strong regulations.”
Based on Wheeler’s comments, though, Obama may have a fight with Wheeler first. As the president himself said in his statement, “the FCC is an independent agency and ultimately this decision is theirs alone.”
Watch Obama’s full statement below.
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