Report: Battle brewing between Obama, FCC over Web rules

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is considering splitting with President Obama, who called for the strongest possible rules for the Internet, according to a report.  

The Washington Post reported that Wheeler on Monday told officials from top Internet companies that he was considering a different path from what the president proposed just hours earlier.

ADVERTISEMENT
“What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business,” Wheeler — who sources told the Post seemed upset — told company officials in a meeting at the FCC's Washington headquarters. 

“What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.”

During the meeting, Wheeler repeatedly told the officials that the FCC is “an independent agency,” emphasizing the fact that he is not beholden to the White House’s preference to regulate broadband Internet service like a public utility. 

Wheeler’s possible plan to propose net neutrality rules different than what Obama has outlined would represent a serious split and would surely draw fire from Democrats.

Many liberal lawmakers have endorsed Obama’s call for the agency to reclassify Internet service so it could be regulated using the same authority that the agency has for traditional phone service, a dramatic step that would give the agency strong powers to police service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Net neutrality is the notion that Internet service companies should treat all online traffic equally.

At the same time, it's unclear whether a different plan from Wheeler, a Democrat, would please Obama's critics.

Republicans and telecommunications companies have strongly opposed the president’s plan, which they say would saddle the Internet with overly restrictive and out-of-date rules. Telecom companies have already promised to sue, potentially tying the issue up in court for years.

After the president’s statement on Monday, Wheeler cautioned that reclassifying Internet service raises “substantive legal questions” and said that the agency has “more work to do.”

Obama’s call dramatically shook up the conversation about new rules, which are due out in coming months.

Before Obama’s video urging the FCC to release tough regulations, Wheeler was reportedly leaning toward a “hybrid” proposal that imposed utility-style rules on just the relationship between Internet service providers and websites.

Reports of that plan received nearly universal criticism.