President Barack Obama's reinforced stance on net neutrality, issued Monday, appears to have added even more controversy to an already contentious issue, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly is reasserting his independence from the president and his plans to attempt a compromise on the issue. The political jostling has forced the FCC to retract its promise to issue new net neutrality rules this year--the commission has confirmed it won't make a judgment on the topic until next year.
"There will not be a vote on open internet rules on the December meeting agenda. That would mean rules would now be finalized in 2015," FCC Press Secretary Kim Hart told the Daily Dot.
The delay comes as the divide between Wheeler and Obama becomes clear. Obama called on the FCC to create the "strongest possible" regulations to ensure net neutrality.
But, as the Washington Post points out, Obama's position goes much further than what Wheeler has been proposing. Specifically, Obama wants the FCC to classify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act as a common carrier service. Wheeler though wants to take a "hybrid" approach that would only reclassify parts of the broadband ecosystem as common carriers.
The issue is critical to wireless carriers, since both Obama and Wheeler have said that net neutrality rules should also be applied to wireless networks (although they both acknowledge wireless technologies are different than wired technologies). Wireless networks were largely left out of the FCC's initial 2010 net neutrality guidelines.
According to the Washington Post, Obama's statement on the topic has frustrated Wheeler, who repeatedly pointed out that "I am an independent agency" during a meeting with Web companies shortly after Obama issued his statement. Wheeler reportedly reiterated his desire to issue a compromise on net neutrality that both protects Internet traffic from discrimination while acknowledging the concerns of telecommunications companies like Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T).
The situation is notable considering Obama appointed Wheeler to his position, and Wheeler helped raise money for Obama during his presidential campaigns.
Not surprisingly, the issue is rife with political implications. As the Washington Post points out, Obama could be planning to use the net neutrality issue as a wedge against Republicans, who are largely against additional government regulation. And Obama and Democrats could win favor from Silicon Valley companies that favor strict net neutrality rules. Wheeler, on the other hand, is a longtime player in the telecommunications industry and deeply knowledgeable about the market and its technologies, and may be trying to use that knowledge to "split the baby," as Wheeler reportedly told Web executives during his meeting.
Nonetheless, the issue already appears to be rippling through the telecommunications market. AT&T today said it will halt its fiber deployments until the net neutrality issue is resolved.
Obama calls on FCC to enact 'strongest possible' net neutrality rules, including for wireless
FCC's Wheeler proposes two-tier net neutrality plan for broadband services
Comcast, AT&T swear they don't do fast lanes … as FCC ponders rules that will allow them
FCC gets 3M net neutrality comments as debate over wireless exemption heats up
AT&T, SoftBank, T-Mobile execs push for wireless carve-out in net neutrality guidelines
Netflix, Mozilla, others protest FCC net neutrality proposal with Internet Slowdown Day