Following President Obama's urging of the Federal Communications Commission to protect a free and open Internet on Monday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has his work cut out for him.
In a public statement, Wheeler laid out how his stance aligns with the president's as well as what work the agency is undertaking to get the updated regulations in order. He wrote, "We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation."
However, the Washington Post reports that behind closed doors, Wheeler expressed some "frustration." In a meeting this week that included representatives from companies such as Etsy, Google and Yahoo, Wheeler reportedly said “What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business…What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.”
Though the president publicly weighed in on the subject, surprising many in the industry, the FCC is an independent government agency, overseen by five commissioners – currently three Democrats, including Wheeler, and two Republicans.
Part of the reason why these questions are on the table now can be traced back to a lawsuit brought by Verizon against the FCC that was settled in January of this year. The U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to prevent ISPs from arrange deals with streaming platforms like Netflix to then charge them for faster user access. In May, the FCC opened the public comment period on its latest proposal, which ended on September 15.
Initially, it was thought that the new regulations would be rolled out in the first half of 2015, but with the possibility of further legal entanglements on the horizon, especially having to do with the President's stance of reclassifying broadband as a common utility under the Telecommunications Act, the issue may not be resolved so quickly.