The White House on Thursday promised to “carefully review” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new plans for allowing Internet service companies to create faster speeds for some users.
President Obama has long been a vocal advocate of net neutrality, the notion that Web traffic should be treated equally, and he "is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet, and will consider any option that might make sense," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Instead, he said that the White House is “pleased to see that [the FCC chairman] is keeping all options on the table.”
Among the options that the FCC is accepting comments on is the notion of reclassifying the Internet from an “information service,” as it has previously been regulated, to a “communications service” like telephone lines, which would come with greater regulatory powers.
Liberals and other defenders of net neutrality have said that step, which would surely inflame passions from the right, is the best way to ensure all people can equally access content online.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan for the new rules would take a different tack.
Internet service providers would be forbidden from blocking access to any websites, but could charge companies to speed up users’ access to their sites, as long as the deals did not harm consumers or competition. That has drawn a backlash from critics on the left and at major Internet companies, which worry it could lead to “fast lanes” for wealthy corporations and slower speeds for everyone else.
Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the FCC for moving forward with any new Internet regulations since a federal appeals court tossed out its old rules earlier this year.
In a joint statement, the heads of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its technology subcommittee said that the FCC rules were “unnecessary” and “will have a chilling effect on job creation and innovation without any corresponding consumer benefit.”
“These rules are a solution in search of a problem,” Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) warned. “Worse still, any attempt to reclassify broadband Internet embarks on a worrisome course for its future.”
The FCC is an independent agency and does not have to follow directions from Obama.
Wheeler said after the commission voted to move ahead with the proposal on Thursday that the White House "has been very respectful from the outset” of that fact.