White House Wants FCC To Support Net Neutrality, Won’t Order It To Reclassify Broadband ISPs

The White House today issued a response to a petition asking the Obama administration to intervene with the FCC to preserve net neutrality. Although the response “reaffirms” and “strongly supports” the administration’s commitment to net neutrality, that support does not extend to telling the FCC what to do.

The petition, which received over 105,000 signatures, asks the Obama administration specifically to intervene in the cause of net neutrality by directing the FCC to reclassify broadband ISPs as common carriers.

Several consumer advocates have called on the FCC to act through reclassification, including former FCC commissioner Michael Copps. Calling broadband ISPs common carriers would require them to treat all traffic equally, but making such a change would be an uphill battle for the agency, which would face political and business opposition.

The White House response certainly talks the talk, saying, “Preserving an open Internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” It then goes on to agree that “Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road” that would, among other things, prevent the next generation of potential entrepreneurs from creating economic growth.

However, other than the simple reaffirmation that the administration approves of net neutrality, the petition response is mostly a non-response. The White House punts directly back to the FCC, saying:

The petition asked that the President direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as “common carriers” which, if upheld, would give the FCC a distinct set of regulatory tools to promote net neutrality. The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet — a principle that this White House vigorously supports.

In the month since an appeals court ruling, the FCC has not yet publicly explained a plan for preserving net neutrality. Congressional Democrats introduced a bill meant to protect consumers in the interim, but it’s not law yet either.

Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech last week that he intended to outline a plan “in the coming days.” Those “coming days” don’t appear to be here just yet, but hopefully consumers get action from the FCC sooner rather than later.

Reaffirming the White House’s Commitment to Net Neutrality [Whitehouse.gov]