Presidential Concerns on Net Neutrality

Rock the Vote is a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to getting young adults into voting booths— and with very good reason. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 72 million Americans aged 18-35 in 2010, a year when the election was decided by just 82 million voters.

Last month, President Obama expressed his concerns about a forthcoming decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding Net neutrality. In his Nov. 10 press release, the president expressed his desire to see the Internet classified as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1966.

The president summarized his public statement by saying, “In plain English, I’m asking [the FCC] to recognize that for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

President Obama’s public statement included a reminder that the FCC is an independent agency and the decision on Net neutrality “is theirs alone.” Although the FCC was created by a Congressional statute and does regulate communications for all U.S. territories, its jurisdiction is separate from government intervention.

The FCC was first formed by the Communications Act of 1934 and later updated by the aforementioned Telecommunications Act. These specific mandates outline definitive missions for the FCC, including “mak[ing] available so far as possible, to all people of the United States…Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”

The controversial decision on Net neutrality seems as though it will be waiting until next year to get the final vote. Originally scheduled for July 2014, the FCC has extended the deadline for this decision in order to further consider public input. Despite urgings by various organizations, Eric Wheeler, the current chairman for the FCC, claims that they need more time to work through all the issues and intricacies of reclassifying broadband Internet. A notice released last month indicated that the FCC would not be voting on Net neutrality during their Dec. 11 meeting and Wheeler offers no specific deadline for the vote.

One of the issues that makes this decision difficult and controversial lies in the skewed definitions of “Net neutrality.” According to Google Trends, the term “Net neutrality” began gaining momentum in early 2006. This term, originally coined by a Columbia Law School professor, Tim Wu, has taken on varying degrees of definitions.

President Obama summarized his thoughts on Net neutrality by echoing the foundational principals of the Internet, of “openness, fairness, and freedom. ” He reminded his audience, “there are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access, there are no toll roads on the information super highway,” and he claims that these principals embody the idea of Net neutrality.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is a staunch opponent of Net neutrality and sees this issue much differently. In a recent speech, the Texas senator claimed that Net neutrality poses a significant risk to consumers saying, “The worst thing that could happen is letting a whole bunch of politicians come in and regulate every aspect of what you’re doing.”

At its heart, Net neutrality calls only for the equal treatment of all entities on the Internet—devoid of fast lanes, preferential treatment, or paid priority between competitors. This monumental decision, and the nuances of how it is implemented, will remain undetermined until 2015 with the earliest opportunity being the FCC meeting on Jan. 29. The FCC decision will most likely not be the final word in this matter, however. Wheeler claims that all regulations as part of the Net neutrality decision will need to be defended in an inevitable court battle after the decision.

“We are going to be sued,” said Wheeler to reporters in a Q-and-A. “That’s the history. … So we want to be sure we’re thoughtful in the way in which we structure them and we’re thoughtful in the way we present what will ultimately be presented to a court.”