Wheeler missed the point of the story: you can’t split a baby

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Ex parte pleading for an ex partitio solution.

Although FCC chairman Tom Wheeler continues to play his cherished Beltway bandit game behind closed doors, the likelihood of Internet service coming largely, if not completely, under common carrier regulation is growing.

An excellent article by Brian Fung and Nancy Scola in the Washington Post clearly lays out the problem: U.S. president Barack Obama wants full on common carrier regulation, while lobbyist-in-chief Wheeler wants to cut a deal that pleases everyone, at least everyone who counts, which in Wheeler’s world is deep-pocketed lobbyists.

According to the Post article, Wheeler said as much in a meeting with lobbyists from “major Web companies, including Google, Yahoo and Etsy”…

“What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business,” a visibly frustrated Wheeler said at the meeting, according to four people who attended. “What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.”

Of course, in Wheeler’s world, everyone most particularly includes the likes of AT&T, Comcast and their cable and telco brethren, whom Wheeler represented as the top Washington lobbyist for both the mobile phone and cable industries over decades. His first shot at drafting net neutrality rules was tailor made for them, but millions of public comments, howls from technology and logistics companies and, finally, Obama’s démarche have backed him into a corner, severely constraining his ability to act as a deal maker.

There’s no doubting he’s frustrated. As long as he could maintain the outward appearance of Obama’s backing, he had the ability to lead the FCC in the direction he wanted to go. Now, the only vote he can count on at the commission is his own.