The White House Gave the FCC Advice on Net Neutrality. That’s How It’s Supposed to Work.

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 11, 2015

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, recently announced support for strong net neutrality rules grounded in the FCC’s strongest legal authority, known as “Title II.” Following Wheeler’s announcement, average Americans, entrepreneurs, and civil libertarians cheered the use of Title II. But those supporting the cable industry’s assault on rules are now crying foul. They claim President Obama’s November public statement favoring Title II tainted the FCC’s entire process. A Republican FCC commissioner and former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai, refers to Wheeler’s plan simply as the “Obama Plan,” and a House committee headed by Jason Chaffetz and Senate committee headed by Ron Johnson (both Republicans) recently announced they will probe the White House’s supposedly nefarious involvement in the FCC’s proceedings.  

But the cable industry and its allies are grasping at straws. This network neutrality proceeding is an example of how the government should operate. The vast majority of Americans—Republican or Democrat—support net neutrality, as do businesses across a wide range of industries. The cable industry is just complaining about a process by which both Obama and Wheeler reached the same obviously right answer: that the American people should control the Internet’s future.

First, by all accounts, the FCC and White House ran parallel processes to reach their own conclusions. The FCC published a (hugely problematic) proposed rule in May and invited feedback from the public. The commission received millions of comments from Etsy sellers, Tumblr users, Vimeo filmmakers, Kickstarter backers, and Internet users of all walks, as well as detailed analyses from professors, technologists, and advocacy groups. The chairman met with startups in New York and San Francisco, most of whom have zero lawyers, zero congressional lobbyists, and definitely no FCC lobbyist. During the fall, the FCC held a set of hearings on a range of topics, from jurisdiction to bright-line rules and constitutional challenges. News reports suggest that the meetings with startups helped change Wheeler’s mind on his initial proposal—and Wheeler was perhaps the only person who attended every minute of the FCC hearings. Before Obama’s statement in November, White House staffers likely had to gather the views of the administration, which presumably included discussions among various agencies, from the Department of Justice to the Commerce Department. As part of this process, they reviewed material and met with parties on all sides.

Read the full piece at Slate