President Obama: FCC's Wheeler Will Protect Open Internet

President Obama says that he has "cared deeply" about network neutrality ever since he ran for office because he said that campaign was "powered by a free and open Internet."

That came in a Google Hangout event Friday, Jan. 31.

Obama said a lot of the new and innovative ways to reach people would not have happened if there had been "commercial barriers and roadblocks." The President made network neutrality a campaign issue when he ran in 2008, and gave the rules a shout-out when they were approved in December 2010 under the chairmanship of his former law school classmate, Julius Genachowski.

"The new commissioner of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, who I appointed, I know is a strong supporter of net neutrality," the President said Friday.

But, he added, "we live under a system under which when a court rules, we have to respect that ruling initially. But the FCC, I know, and [FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler, are looking at all the options at their disposal, including 'potential appeals and rulemakings,' and a variety of tools that they may have in order to continue to vindicate the notion of a free and open Internet, and I think you can feel confident that this administration will continue to support that."

The D.C. federal appeals court last month vacated the FCC's anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules, saying the FCC had not cited the proper authority to do so.

Almost immediately, the White House weighed in in support of Open Internet protections. In an e-mail to B&C/Multi, White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said: "[T]he President remains committed to an open Internet, where consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use, and where online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products."

The President did say there would be a lot of "technical issues" about how best to arrive at new open internet protection, and he said he knew the FCC was still evaluating the court opinion.

The President said Friday the good news was that the FCC can regulate this space. "They have authority. The question now is how they use that authority. If the old systems and rulings that they had in place were not effective in preserving net neutrality, do they have other tools that would stand up to court scrutiny that would accomplish the same goals?"

Wheeler said last week he expected to outline his plan and rationale "shortly."

The President pointed out that the FCC was an independent agency and that he could not "meddle" in the decisionmaking there. But he said that based on his conversations with Wheeler before he took the job that he was "pretty confident" the FCC is going to be "exploring how they can continue to uphold what makes the Internet so special."

The court has suggested there are ways to recraft network neutrality rules under the current definition of broadband service as an information service, or to classify it as a common carrier service subject to mandatory access conditions.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.