Back in January, a federal court struck down the FCC’s net-neutrality policy, leaving Obama administration officials looking for a new way to guarantee that all online content will be treated equally.
A few months later, in April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled a possible alternative, which was quickly condemned by net-neutrality proponents. In May, he tried again with his so-called “fast lane” policy – no online content would be deemed less accessible based on service providers’ corporate arrangements , but telecoms could charge some companies, such as Netflix, more to deliver their content faster.
For proponents of net neutrality, the fear has been that President Obama, a longtime ally, would break with his previous commitment. This week, he did the opposite, recommitting his administration to the same position the president has always held (via Joan McCarter).
“One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers,” Obama said at a business forum with African leaders.“That’s the big controversy here. You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet, so they can stream movies faster or what have you,” he said.“The position of my administration, as well as, I think, a lot of companies here is, you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various user,” Obama added. “You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.”
Note, Obama did not specifically comment on the pending FCC plans, but his message wasn’t exactly subtle – and it’s exactly what net-neutrality supporters wanted to hear him say.
As for what’s next, the New York Times recently summarized where things stand.
[O]n Thursday, the commission voted 3 to 2 along party lines to consider two options. Under the first option, the F.C.C. would require cable and phone companies to provide their broadband subscribers a basic level of unfettered Internet service. But as long as that condition is met, telecom companies would also be able to charge businesses like Netflix fees to deliver their movies faster to consumers than others.Under the second option, the commission would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, akin to a public utility. That would allow for more stringent regulation that could prevent companies like Verizon and Comcast from engaging in unreasonable and unjust discrimination. Many consumer advocates like Public Knowledge and legal scholars like Tim Wu of Columbia Law School have recommended this option all along.
Supporters of net neutrality, of course, prefer the latter.
The public-comments phase of the process is ongoing and the FCC members will reconvene later this year to reevaluate the alternatives.