As I noted here last week, the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate ensures that Congress will not accept a move by the Federal Communications Commission to impose a net neutrality mandate on the nation’s internet service providers. That remains true, and President Obama has decided to test their resolve. (So much for his promises to work with the GOP Congress, promises which lasted less than one working day.)
This morning Obama called on the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” That is like telling a pit bull to attack a pomeranian: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has been trying to impose net neutrality ever since he joined the agency. He certainly didn’t need Obama to tell him this.
That means, of course, that Obama’s statement was directed not at Wheeler and the FCC but at the Congress. Obama is telling the Senate that he is going to press ahead with what’s called Title II reclassification of the FCC and he doesn’t care one bit that all authority for the FCC must come from Congress. The FCC has been stymied by the courts in its attempts to impose net neutrality so far, as the Democrat-c0ntrolled Senate sat idly by. The federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s mandate last January, ruling the agency did not have the authority to impose it.
Title II reclassification, however, hasn’t been tested in the courts, and it’s the only bullet the FCC and Obama have in hand at this point.
This statement by Obama, then, doesn’t change anything in policy terms; the FCC is merely going to continue to try to impose net neutrality. The only thing Obama’s statement does is throw down the gauntlet before the inccoming Republican Senate, openly challenging them to a fight over the issue.
As I wrote last week, whether the FCC will choose to ignore the threat of a battle in the Senate “will probably depend in great part on how feisty President Obama is feeling.” We now know just how feisty Obama really is.
Presumptive incoming Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune should engage the enemy right away. He has much ammunition: the president is calling for the FCC to micromanage the data distribution procedures of ISPs, even though consumers are much happier with their Internet service than they are with, say, Obamacare, the IRS, the border crisis, the TSA’s airport security measures, the administration’s handling of the Ebola threat, and other examples of government’s unparalleled ability to mismanage everything it touches. If the president has his way, soon we’ll have to add the Internet to the list of things the government has ruined in just the past few years.
Thune and the Senate should push back against the president’s rhetoric and call him out on what he’s really asking for: the ruination of the internet.