Commentary

White House Support For Open Net Falls Short

The Obama administration today reiterated its support for net neutrality, but stopped short of calling for the Federal Communications Commission to do the one thing that would ensure an open Internet: reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service.

“Preserving an open Internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity,” National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park write today in a blog post on Whitehouse.gov. “Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries. The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure.”

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Sperling and Park were responding to an online petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, asking Obama to direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers. Doing so would require ISPs to follow the same rules that require telephone companies to put through all calls.

That petition was launched on Jan. 15, one day after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the rules that prohibit broadband providers from blocking or degrading online content. The court said in its decision that the FCC couldn't impose common carrier requirements on broadband providers, given that the FCC previously classified broadband as an “information” service. Only telecommunications services are subject to common carrier laws, the court said.

In their blog post, Sperling and Park punt on that key request: “The FCC is an independent agency,” the officials write. They add that FCC Chairman Tom 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.”

At this point, Wheeler hasn't publicly ruled out reclassifying broadband access as a common carrier service. But he hasn't said he intends to do so either. Wheeler also hasn't yet said whether the FCC plans to ask the entire D.C. Circuit Court to reconsider the decision gutting the neutrality rules; that decision was issued by a three-judge panel. The FCC's deadline to ask for reconsideration is Feb. 28.

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