Obama Should Fire His FCC Chairman

Zephyr Teachout | Politico Magazine | May 19, 2014

Barack Obama made an important promise when he first ran for president. “The Internet is perhaps the most important network in history, and we have to keep it that way,” he said in 2007. As a senator, he had similarly called for a “neutral platform” uncontrolled by “some corporate media middleman” like Verizon or Comcast. Obama, in other words, was committed to preserving network neutrality—the notion that Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have to provide fair and neutral access to all websites and applications; they can’t make small websites slow to load and give “fast lanes” to monopolies and large companies who pay extra for special treatment.

But last Thursday, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, proposed a network neutrality rule that would authorize those pay-to-play fast lanes. The FCC approved the proposal but will take public comment over the next four months before a final ruling. The problem with Wheeler’s plan, though, is that discrimination begets discrimination: Without net neutrality, bigger companies will get more traffic and more power, and will in turn have more money to pay for even more access. Eventually, they can control what we see and read. It’s the opposite of the American commitment to decentralized democratic and economic power.

The Obama White House responded to the FCC’s proposal with a distancing statement, noting that the FCC is “an independent agency” and adding, “We will be watching closely as the process moves forward in hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net neutrality.” While the statement overall was a clear snub of Wheeler’s efforts, the term “independent agency” is merely code for saying Obama’s hands are tied...