© Josh Sager – November 2014
On Monday, President Obama publically called for implementing the “strongest possible rules” protecting net neutrality. He came out in favor of treating consumer broadband services a public utility, banning speed throttling (reducing the speed of a website if they don’t pay a premium), and ensuring that all content providers have equal access to the web.
His speech parallels the sentiment espoused on the White House’s public website and, to many, is a sign that Obama is a strong advocate for net neutrality. Unfortunately, Obama’s actions in the past do not match up with his current rhetoric—words are a good start towards action, but they can also be a smokescreen that is used to conceal a politician’s true goals.
In November 2013, President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler to be the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission—this is the organization that oversees the internet and is actually making the decisions regarding net neutrality. Tom Wheeler is an industry insider who, among other positions, was a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
In short, Wheeler was an expert who spent years as one of the top lobbyists for the telecommunications industry, who is now expected to impartially run the agency of government that regulates the telecommunications Industry. This is the functional equivalent to appointing the CEO of Exxon Mobil to be the head of the EPA.
The revolving door in Washington in remarkable well-oiled, and there is a great chance that Wheeler will leave his position at the FCC in the next few years to return to the private sector. If he follows the pattern that has become common in our regulatory agencies, he will work for one of the corporations that he previously regulated and will receive very generous compensation (that is, if he doesn’t “alienate” them while he is in public office).
President Obama knew exactly who Tom Wheeler was when he appointed him to the FCC and there is little doubt where Wheeler’s sympathies lie in regard to net neutrality. Service providers would benefit massively from the ability to choke competitors with inferior bandwidth and force content providers to pay premium rates for the service that they are getting today. As such, giving the previous top (and possibly future) lobbyist for the telecommunications industry the power to give them this great gift is the antithesis of what Obama is currently championing.
A cynic like myself sees what Obama is doing right now and think that he is trying to have his cake and eat it too—he appointed somebody who is certain to destroy net neutrality, then began speaking out publically about his great support for net neutrality. The media picks up the story that Obama is strong on net neutrality, but fails to draw the obvious connection between his appointment of Wheeler and the potential demise of net neutrality. If net neutrality falls, Obama can point to his public stand on the subject and argue that the situation isn’t his fault and the corporate media will largely back him up, or ignore the situation completely (after all, they benefit from the death of net neutrality and are sometimes even owned by the same corporations—like GE—that are pushing this deregulation).
Obama’s words may be encouraging, but they are absolutely useless without concrete action on his part. If he simply sits back while Wheeler destroys net neutrality, it will be one of the worst legacies he leaves our nation, no matter how much he proclaims his innocence.