FCC denies break with Obama

Getty Images

A top Federal Communications Commission official on Wednesday said the independent agency has not made a decision on whether to follow President Obama's recommendations on net neutrality. 

Gigi Sohn, a special counsel in FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's office, pushed back against a report in The Washington Post that highlighted differences between Obama and Wheeler.

Sohn argued that comments made by Wheeler at a private meeting Monday and reported by the Post were "completely taken out of context."

But she didn't dispute the idea that the FCC could go in a different direction from the president. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"But nobody should draw the conclusion that the chairman is either going to follow the president or diverge from the president. All options are on the table," Sohn said on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show."

FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart reiterated the point in a statement sent to The Hill. 

“Reports that Chairman Wheeler has decided on the best approach for implementing legally sustainable open Internet rules are inaccurate," she said. 

Obama on Monday made a public statement in favor of net neutrality and against the creation of "fast lanes" that would allow companies to purchase speedier paths for their content to reach consumers online.

He called on the FCC to use the strongest possible authority to enforce rules that would prevent Internet providers from slowing or blocking service, while also banning deals that would allow providers and websites to negotiate deals for faster service.

Obama’s proposal would reclassify broadband Internet service as a utility, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Republicans and service providers have strongly opposed the plan. 

Wheeler proposed rules earlier this year that would use an alternate authority to enforce the rules. The chairman has recently been exploring "hybrid" proposals, which would only partially rely on the authority Obama proposed. 

The Post reported that Wheeler told a group of businesses that he was moving in a different direction than the president with the more nuanced approach.

“What you want is what everyone wants: An open Internet that doesn’t affect your business. What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby," Wheeler said, according to four people cited in the story.  

"Those comments were completely taken out of context,” Sohn said Wednesday. “The chairman and the FCC will look at the president's comments just like it will look at the other 4 million comments, and it will come to a conclusion.” 

Another person who attended the Wheeler meeting also said the report seemed "a little inaccurate."

"It wasn't clear to me that Tom Wheeler was indicating in one way or another if he would support the president," attorney Marvin Ammori said on the same show. "He was mainly talking about time and asking some hard questions. And we were trying to give him some answers."

Wheeler has confirmed the commission is exploring a hybrid approach, but he also has said all options would be on the table. 

A vote to finalize rules will not be taken up until next year, his office previously confirmed, in order to dedicate more time to various legal authorities. 

"I would say in the next couple months," Sohn said about the timing.

This post was updated at 2:34 p.m.