FCC Chairman, President Obama View Open Internet Differently

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler apparently has some different ideas about the Internet of the future, compared with the views of President Obama, who appointed him.

net neutrality

The chairman of the FCC may not be in agreement with President Obama's call this week for tougher rules for broadband Internet providers. In fact, Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the federal Communications Commission, may be "moving in a different direction" from the president, according to a Nov. 11 blog post by The Washington Post.

The report cited Wheeler's comments during a meeting he had with officials from Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Etsy, according to The Post. Interestingly, Wheeler's remarks to the officials came after Obama earlier in the day had issued his own remarks, which asked the FCC to more tightly regulate high-speed Internet providers.

Wheeler told the officials that instead of Obama's more strongly worded proposal, Wheeler "preferred a more nuanced solution," The Post reported. "His approach would deliver some of what Obama wants but also would address the concerns of the companies that provide Internet access to millions of Americans, such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T," the newspaper reported.

"What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn't affect your business," Wheeler told the assembled officials, according to the blog post. "What I've got to figure out is how to split the baby," said a "visibly frustrated Wheeler," the newspaper reported.

Wheeler was appointed to his FCC post in November 2013 by Obama.

Obama had issued his comments about the Internet and its future earlier this week, shortly after leaving on a trip to Asia, according to an earlier eWEEK report. He said he wants to see the FCC adopt Title II as a way to include Internet service providers (ISPs) in existing neutrality regulations. Title II refers to the Communications Act, which gives the FCC the power to regulate communications in the United States. Title II was originally intended to make sure that telephone companies provided service to anyone in their coverage area.

"We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality."

Wheeler then responded with his own statement in response to the president's comments on Nov. 10, saying that he and Obama are in agreement about opposing Internet fast lanes and special deals that would "prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation."

At the same time, Wheeler said that the FCC is "an independent regulatory agency" and that he will "incorporate the President's submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding. We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act."

In his remarks, Wheeler said that "the more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do. The reclassification and hybrid approaches before us raise substantive legal questions. We found we would need more time to examine these to ensure that whatever approach is taken, it can withstand any legal challenges it may face."

Looking at the Title II reclassification proposed by Obama "brings with it policy issues that run the gamut from privacy to universal service to the ability of federal agencies to protect consumers, as well as legal issues ranging from the ability of Title II to cover mobile services to the concept of applying forbearance on services under Title II," Wheeler said in his comments. "I am grateful for the input of the President and look forward to continuing to receive input from all stakeholders, including the public, members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership of the Senate and House committees, and my fellow commissioners. Ten years have passed since the Commission started down the road towards enforceable Open Internet rules. We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online."

In October, officials from AT&T, Comcast and Verizon told U.S. leaders that they do not plan to offer faster Internet access, or so-called "fast lanes," to content producers who are willing to pay more to get their messages out in front of competitors' transmissions, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

The issue of net neutrality has been a hotbed for several years, with proponents and opponents arguing their positions and bashing the opposition verbally in public forums and discussions.

In September, the FCC announced that it had received a record 3 million comments about proposed rules for net neutrality by a Sept. 15 deadline.

While Obama was running for the presidency in 2007, he pledged to support net neutrality if elected.