Editorial: Independent Thinkers

We want to remind the FCC of something President Barack Obama said two weeks ago regarding how the commission should recraft network neutrality rules thrown out by the court.

The president said he can’t “just call [FCC chairman Tom Wheeler] up and tell him exactly what to do.”

Obama was speaking at an innovation town hall in California, where promoting open Internet rules was pretty much a case of preaching to the choir.

But the president’s point was that the Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency. That means its job is to always make up its own collective mind, based on the record before it, using its expertise. For example, when the president gives an executive order, the Department of Defense, or Commerce, or Agriculture, has to snap to attention and follow his lead. The FCC gets to take it under advisement and, respectfully, comply or not.

The president spoke out strongly for a neutral Internet. If that means an Internet free of anti-competitive conduct, including blocking access, we absolutely agree. Nobody wants a walled and inaccessible Internet, or if they do, they shouldn’t get it.

Obama also spoke out against paid priority. That issue requires finessing. There is something to be said for double-sided markets, so long as the result is not anti-competitive behavior. Anti-competitive paid priority should be off limits, period.

But what we think, and even what the president thinks, is not dispositive, nor should it be.

Five FCC commissioners will make that call based on what they see as the public interest.