In the face of President Obama's call for the FCC to adopt fresh legislation to protect net neutrality, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has reminded the leader politely that the agency works for Congress, not the White House.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has found itself at the heart of a discussion on what is deemed net neutrality -- the principle of treating all Internet traffic the same way.
The US communications regulator is currently thrashing out a new set of net neutrality rules, but the current proposal would allow for telecommunications and broadband providers to charge content providers, such as Netflix, for priority Internet fast-lanes. If content providers refused to pay additional rates, theoretically, this could result in throttled speeds for US subscribers -- or ISPs which produce their own content could slow down rivals in a bid to promote their own services.
The proposal drew mass protest and a high volume of comments by the public, which resulted in the US watchdog delaying a change in regulations for now.
This week, President Obama came out in support of net neutrality, as he believes Internet services should be reclassified as a utility and something Americans have a right to. Therefore, Obama does not support any plans which would result in throttling, blocking or paid priority lanes of traffic.
Obama's statement read:
"The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services."
The US president added that the FCC should tighten net neutrality rules to include mobile broadband.
In support of Obama's speech, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said "the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth [and] we both oppose Internet fast lanes."
On Monday, Wheeler told executives from major Internet companies -- including Google and Yahoo -- that the agency is considering an approach which combines both Obama's proposals and also addresses concerns registered by ISPs -- but the route may not follow the US president's wishes.
"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."
However, Wheeler felt it was necessary during the meeting to pointedly remind executives that the FCC was not beholden to the White House, and repeatedly said "I am an independent agency."
It is unknown how the president's declaration of support is going to change the FCC's path going forward, if at all. While supporters of net neutrality say the open flow of Internet traffic should remain sacred, opponents argue that priority lanes could grant better services to content providers whose customers require heavy volumes of traffic.