White House defers to FCC on further action on net neutrality

In response to a petition, the White House said the Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama said in response to a petition that it continues to back an open Internet, but declined to direct the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on how to go about preserving Internet neutrality, as it is an independent agency.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down in January the FCC's net neutrality rules, ruling that the agency does not have the authority to implement rules that would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.

"Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such," Judge David Tatel wrote in his order.

The Telecommunications Act passed by the U.S. Congress defines two categories of entities: telecommunications carriers, which provide the equivalent of basic services, and information-service providers, which provide the equivalent of enhanced services and are exempt from so-called common carrier regulations, the Judge noted.

A petition on the White House online petition website "We the People," however, asked Obama to direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as "common carriers" which, if upheld, would give the FCC the regulatory tools to promote net neutrality.

A post Tuesday on the White House blog, signed by Obama assistants Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer, however, appeared to rule out intervention by the president, stating that the FCC is an "independent agency."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has "publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet - a principle that this White House vigorously supports," it said.

The FCC is run by five commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms. It is an independent agency overseen by Congress. Wheeler was sworn in as chairman of the FCC in November.

"Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries," according to the blog post. "The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure." The administration said it was encouraging that after the court ruling, major broadband providers asserted their commitment to an open Internet.

The petition, which had 105,572 signatures, was set up on Jan 15, a day after the order of the appeals court. "This ruling allows ISPs to charge companies for access to its users and charge users for access to certain services. Fewer companies will be able to afford access for innovative ideas and products," according to the petition.

Wheeler is expected to announce soon his plan to preserve net neutrality.

Tags U.S. White HousetelecommunicationregulationlegalU.S. Federal Communications Commissioninternetgovernment

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service

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