Hold on, Mr. President! FCC rebukes Obama over net neutrality plea

Hold on, Mr. President! FCC rebukes Obama over net neutrality plea
​After United States President Barack Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission to preserve net neutrality this week, the chairman of the FCC politely but firmly rebuked the White House’s wishes.

Early Monday, Pres. Obama said in a video posted on the official White House website that Wheeler should “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality” when the FCC eventually unveils guidelines that will govern the way in which web traffic is delivered to customers by Internet Service Providers, or ISPs. The FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the president suggested, “while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”

“This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies,” Obama said.

Shortly after the president weighed on, however, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler fired back with a response in which he said his agency will hear Obama’s plea, but with the same regard as the four million or so other comments received by the FCC in recent months.

“As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the president’s submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding,” Wheeler wrote Monday. “We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act.”

Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wheeler is believed to be pursuing a “hybrid” plan concerning net neutrality that would “separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content.” This week, though, the president advocated for a plan more in tune with the demands listed in a highly successful petition that garnered more than 105,000 signatures when it was posted on the White House website earlier this year. In both instances, the FCC was urged to reclassify ISPs as “common carriers,” like utility companies, which would then give the agency distinct regulatory tools to promote net neutrality.

Now as the unveiling of the FCC proposal becomes more imminent, Wheeler wrote in response to the president on Monday that the agency may have more work ahead of it than previously perceived.

“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,” Wheeler replied. “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. For instance, whether in the context of a hybrid or reclassification approach, Title II 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.”

“We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online,” Wheeler wrote.

Earlier that day, the president made headlines after the White House launched a new page on its website advocating for net neutrality protections in a rare urging surprised activists who for months now have been waging demonstrations across the US in hopes of preserving a free and open internet.

"I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online," Obama said on Monday. "Simply put: No service should be stuck in a 'slow lane' because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”

In a dozen cities across the US last week, activists waged demonstrations outside of government buildings, including the White House, in an attempt to raise awareness of the implications that could arise if the FCC pursues plans that could allow ISPs to give web traffic preferential treatment dependent on payment; opponents feel such a maneuver would quash net neutrality as is presently exists by allowing the creation of a multi-tier system and “fast lanes” in which data is delivered to customers at a speed pursuant to the price paid to ISPs by content creators.

Other powerful Washington politicians have chimed in on the net neutrality debate as well following what has become Obama’s most frank plea for protecting the internet yet since entering office. In the case of Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Texas), however, his recent thoughts on the matter have been met with ridicule from across the web after he weighed in with what has been largely panned as a misguided remark.

“Net neutrality,” Cruz tweeted after the president’s statement was published, “is Obamacare for the internet; the internet should not operate at the speed of the government.”

Almost instantly, Cruz’s tweet was countered by a bevy of retorts from activists, and even earned him a response from acclaimed web comic The Oatmeal that has since spread wildly on the internet

“I know that money is required to run a successful campaign, and I know that you accepted a lot of funds from Comcast last year. In exchange, I’m guessing they required you to scrawl a 150-character, myopic, partisan shit-smear all over an idea which everyone can benefit from,” the comic reads in part. “But you shouldn’t.”