On Monday, Obama said that he favors reclassifying the Internet as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory maneuver that would give the FCC authority to impose stringent rules over broadband including prohibitions on blocking or slowing content, as well as a ban on paid prioritization.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately condemned the move as a regulatory overreach, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted that net neutrality was “Obamacare for the Internet.” The House Energy & Commerce Committee, via its Communications and Technology Subcommittee, will devote the oversight hearing to net neutrality.
“Ignoring the term ‘independent agency,’ the president this week wanted the world to know who was boss when it comes to net neutrality,” said Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee. “As the FCC moves closer to a vote that could put the government in control of the Internet, it is imperative that Congress hears directly from all five commissioners and leading stakeholders.”
But it’s the FCC, as an independent agency, that will decide on what the rules are. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler did not commit to reclassification when Obama announced his support for such a move. And although Wheeler said that he was working on a proposal that would be a hybrid of regulatory approaches, he has since indicated that idea will need more time. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Wheeler was moving in a different direction from the president, but Huffington Post later reported that Wheeler indicated that he was open to reclassification.
Such a move would trigger outcry from industry, Wall Street and the GOP, but the FCC could still go ahead. Congress could try to pass a bill to block reclassification, or even to defund some FCC activities, but it would still face Obama’s veto power. It seems almost certain that any approach that tries to establish robust rules will face a legal challenge.
What it appears the Obama administration has going for it is public support for such things as bans on paid prioritization and blocking of content. A University of Delaware Center for Political Communication survey showed 81% oppose “allowing Internet service providers to charge some websites or streaming video services extra for faster speeds.” Viewers of satirical programs like John Oliver’s HBO series “Last Week Tonight” were more aware of the issue than viewers of traditional news sources, the survey found.