FCC commissioners surf a common carrier wave

16 November 2014 by Steve Blum
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As detailed yesterday, an article in the the Washington Post describes well the split between U.S. president Barack Obama and FCC chair Tom Wheeler over common carrier regulation of Internet infrastructure and service. But it’s not a game of equals, which is why the safe bet is on adoption of Title II common carrier rules.

Even though the Post article puts Wheeler on an even footing with Obama as an independent policy maker, the reality is far different. The power of the presidency and Wheeler’s obligations to the man who appointed him aside, in the end he’s only 1 vote amongst 5 commissioners. The 2 republicans – Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly – seem absolutely opposed to any additional regulation. Mignon Clyburn has voiced muted concerns about Wheeler’s approach, not to mention the fact that her father is Jim Clyburn, the third ranking democrat in the house of representatives and one of Obama’s staunchest supporters.

Jessica Rosenworcel, also a democrat, has bucked Wheeler and looked favorably upon common carrier rules from the beginning, as her nuanced explanation of her vote to move ahead with the current FCC net neutrality proceeding made clear…

I support an open Internet. But I would have done this differently…I believe the process that got us to this rulemaking today is flawed. I would have preferred a delay. I think we moved too fast to be fair. So I concur. But I want to acknowledge that the Chairman has made significant adjustments to the text of the rulemaking we adopt today. He has expanded its scope and put all options on the table. Our effort now covers law and policy, Section 706 and Title II.

Wheeler has lost control of the game. Any deal he cuts will have to include extensive enough common carrier regulation to allow Obama to claim it as a victory. There’s still enough wiggle room to throw a bone to his colleagues in the cable and telco lobby, but it will be radically different from the no lobbyist left behind dreamworld that Wheeler first proposed.