After six years of letting the bureaucrats and lobbyists dance largely unsupervised, President Obama today entered the debate. As one might expect from his politcal roots, he weighed in solidly on the side of net neutrality as originally envisioned -- no fast lanes or anything of that sort.
Of course, that general orientation has been his position for a long time, but he's been relatively quiet about it. A mere week after the elections, he is lining up behind public opinion as exemplified by the huge flood of comments submitted to the FCC over the past six months. Someone might want to tell him that taking popular opinions about things ordinary people actually care about *before* an election is generally a better move. But I digress.
Today Obama called for the regulation of consumer broadband services as a public utility under Title II, which the industry really does not want, and for an explicit ban on paid prioritization that could prevent even the paid peering deals Netflix has been forging noisily all year. It would seem to undermine the compromise approach that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is said to have been floating. In those, it was the wholesale side that would get the FCC's attention while on the retail side the door would remain open to things that might not be so neutral.
As one might expect, the responses have been swift. Public advocates love the idea, most telecommunication and cable industry associations do not, and journalists of all stripes are just happy to have an easy article to write that keeps the controversy going. Not that it wasn't going pretty steadily already.
Whether Obama's weight behind the consumer advocate side of the net neutrality issue means all that much is unclear. We're now into the 'lame duck' part of his presidency, with this one lamer than usual given the drubbing his party took in Congress last week. It's not as if threatening to fire Tom Wheeler, should he not tow the correct line, is a real threat since by putting the issue in the spotlight he likely can't get a replacement confirmed anyway.
On the other hand, perhaps what we need is a climactic battle to break the logjam. As Obama wades in, perhaps so will others who had been waiting to see what happened. And you know, some bipartisan idea might sally forth and win the day. Hah, as longshots go I think I'd rather bet on the Cubs winning the World Series next year...
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