Barack Obama has once again reiterated his commitment to network neutrality, offering support to the FCC after a legal defeat last month. In response to a White House petition, Obama laid out a message that's more concrete than his previous statements, which affirmed his belief in the FCC's work but refrained from making specific suggestions. As before, he also made an emphatic argument for net neutrality. "Preserving an open internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity," Obama wrote. "Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries."
FCC chair Tom Wheeler has said that he's laying out a plan to resurrect the Open Internet rules, which were largely struck down in mid-January. Though the court's ruling was unfavorable, the judge said the FCC has some authority to regulate broadband carriers under the current rules, and Wheeler promised to "accept that invitation." Now, Obama has backed him up.
It was ... encouraging to see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, whom the President appointed to that post last year, reaffirm his commitment to a free and open internet and pledge to use the authority granted by Congress to maintain a free and open internet. The White House strongly supports the FCC and Chairman Wheeler in this effort.
The petition, however, proposed a more controversial option. Instead of crafting rules to work within Congress' framework, the FCC could simply reclassify broadband providers as common carriers, allowing it to regulate them much more heavily. On this, Obama was equivocal, effectively washing his hands of the decision.
The petition asked that the President direct the FCC to reclassify internet service providers as "common carriers" which, if upheld, would give the FCC a distinct set of regulatory tools to promote net neutrality. The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open internet — a principle that this White House vigorously supports.
Several carriers have said they'll continue to preserve an "open internet" despite the lack of regulation, and Obama called their response "encouraging," saying that "a wide spectrum of stakeholders and policymakers recognize the importance of these principles." Nonetheless, a couple of worrying events have happened since then, including a merger between the extremely powerful Comcast and Time Warner Cable carriers, which would leave fewer competitors on the market. Wheeler is expected to release more details about his plan later this month.