Obama may have doomed net neutrality

In a written/video statement today President Obama urged the FCC to consider reclassifying ISPs (cable, satellite, phone and wireless providers) as public utilities in order to enforce net neutrality rules on carriers. Unfortunately he may have dashed any hopes that the FCC would ultimately do the right thing.

Currently the U.S. has some of the most expensive yet slowest broadband Internet services in the world. This is mainly due to the fact that there is virtually no broadband competition in the majority of U.S. markets. The FCC has had little or no power to enforce any rules they may come up with and every time they have tried to punish service providers for overcharging customers, throttling, cramming, lying about ‘unlimited’ data plans and on and on the providers have pushed back in the courts claiming the FCC doesn’t have the legal right to punish them for anything.

The current debates over the FCC’s attempt to close some of those legal loopholes was a direct result of a court ruling that came about because of a Verizon appeal of a fine the FCC had levied against them. The court said the FCC had to clarify its position before the fine could be enforced.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to ease carrier’s fears about any changes the FCC might make, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler stated earlier this year that there might be room for ‘Internet fast lanes’ within the newly modified FCC position.

This brought on a storm of feedback to the FCC and nearly 5 million people wrote in on the issue. Today Obama threw in his two cents on the issue but he may have dashed all hopes by saying anything at all.

On the surface President Obama’s statements make perfect sense. The FCC should be given the power to oversee ISPs and step in if (when) they try any funny business.

But it really doesn’t matter what the president says or how much sense he makes because the Republican Party has a pretty firm policy in place that states ‘It doesn’t matter what he says, if President Obama is in favor of something then we will do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen.’

Now that the recent elections have given the Republicans control over both the house and senate we can assume that no bill or law originating from a Democrat or the President has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting passed. And any action the President wants to take (even if it is making the fence around the White House six inches higher) will be fought from the very beginning. If the President wants to try and circumvent the Republican Party on anything, they will automatically block any and all other actions the President might want to consider.

Even something like today’s statement from the President, that really has no potential consequences since he has no power to influence the FCC, is likely to cause a Republican backlash since…well…it came from Obama and therefore, by Republican definition, he must be wrong.

I fear that Obama may have doomed any hopes of net neutrality by the simple act of endorsing it. Yesterday Republicans may have been split on the issue (or not even care one way or the other) but now that Obama has said net neutrality is a good thing it’s a sure bet Republicans will rally together to fight against net neutrality with everything they’ve got. And since they’ve got all the cards now they’ve got a good shot at crushing this evil ‘net neutrality’ plot.

I almost wish that Obama had given American’s the same choice he gave Democrats across the country who were running for elections – if they felt Obama’s endorsement of their campaign would hurt more than it might help then he simply didn’t try to help. If he had asked me last week if I thought his endorsement would help or hurt net neutrality I would have said, ‘Thanks Barack, you make some very good points that are logical and very well thought out. I really appreciate your wanting to help out here, but it would probably be best for everyone if you didn’t say anything at all.’

Guy Wright

Guy Wright has been covering the technology space since the days when computers had cranks and networks were steam powered. He has been a writer and editor for more years then he cares to admit.


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