Why The White House Is Passing On The Latest Net Neutrality Debate

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President Obama ran for president as a vocal supporter of “net neutrality,” the principle that Internet providers should deliver all varieties of online content at equal speeds. But in response to a proposal by Google and Verizon to allow preferential content speeds over wireless and broadband, the Obama White House has decided to keep quiet.

The reason, say White House aides, is the ongoing the Federal Communications Commission reviews of the issue. “The President supports an open Internet that drives innovation, investment, free speech and consumer choice,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage, though she declined to say whether the Google-Verizon proposal met that standard. “We support the FCC’s process to establish balanced, sound and enforceable rules in this area.”

Another White House aide said that, while the White House did not want to interfere with the deliberations of the FCC, an independent agency, it was important that any final FCC rule address wireless and managed services, two of the issues raised by Google and Verizon. Under their proposal, Internet providers would not be able to block or slow down content over the current wireline Internet. But companies could give preferential treatment over wireless, cellular Internet networks. They could also establish new, premium broadband services that would offer faster speeds for certain content.

During the campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama was asked during a 2007 MTV-MySpace forum this question: “Would you make it a priority in your first year of office to reinstate Net neutrality as the law of the land? And would you pledge to only appoint FCC commissioners that support open Internet principles like Net neutrality?”

His answer left little doubt of his intentions (see the video here):

The answer is yes. I am a strong supporter of net neutrality. . . What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites. . . . So you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you’d be getting rotten service from some mom and pop sites. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet–which is that there is this incredible equality there. . . As president I am going to make sure that that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”

The FCC has made no public comment on the Google and Verizon proposal, but in October of last year, Commission Chairman Julias Genachowski laid out the principles that would guide the rule making. “Each and every user of the Internet must have access to an unlimited online universe of ideas and commerce,” he said at the time. “Internet users should always have the final say about their online experience, whether it’s the software, applications or services they choose, or the networks and hardware they use to connect to the Internet.” He also said the rulemaking would deal with both wireless and network management issues. To see his full statement, click here.