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Tom Wheeler Still Wants To 'Split The Baby'; Forgetting That The Point Of That Story Was Not To Actually Split The Baby

from the slamming-on-the-breaks dept

The Washington Post put up an article last night claiming that FCC boss Tom Wheeler is telling tech companies that he isn’t going to follow President Obama’s net neutrality plan, following the President’s surprise announcement on Monday of his support for real net neutrality rules under Title II. We’ve heard from a few people who were at that meeting who claim that the Washington Post article isn’t entirely accurate. It is true that Wheeler is still very interested in a potential hybrid plan that almost no one likes, but that much of Wheeler’s statements at the meeting were actually more focused on delaying an official decision by the FCC, which many had expected to come in a December FCC meeting. Wheeler, it appears, wants more time to study the different options. Another FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel (who seems more likely to support a plan including Title II reclassification), has apparently been pushing for the FCC to stick to the existing schedule and to make a decision “without delay.”

Still, it does appear that Wheeler wants more time to potentially explore the possibility of the hybrid option, or whether or not to really support the President’s Title II plan. According to the Washington Post, he made this rather unfortunate analogy:

?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.?

Except, first of all, no, he doesn’t need to “split the baby.” The whole point of the split the baby story is not about compromising and going down the middle, but about how such a plan for a compromise is actually a decoy to get parties to reveal their true positions, leading to the final result, which does not involve such a compromise. Perhaps Wheeler thinks he’s playing the long game here, and his apparent attraction to the hybrid plan is something of a similar decoy, but it’s not at all clear right now.

Meanwhile, the White House is making lots of noise about how the President is really serious in supporting Title II and “itching for a fight” if Congress tries to challenge such net neutrality rules:

Ultimately, the White House decided that telecom companies probably would challenge any strong FCC rules in court anyway, so why not fully support calls by the tech lobby for far-reaching rules protecting an open Internet?

The aides saw a political upside to a strong statement. A key contingent of the president?s base ? young, tech-savvy progressives ? would be energized by the action, and a strong statement on net neutrality could also help his relationship with congressional Democrats, according to government and industry officials.

Obama also saw a more immediate opportunity to retake the political high ground from Republicans, according to a Democratic congressional aide. Should GOP lawmakers vote to overturn any protections enacted by the FCC, a presidential veto would put Obama on the side of millions of consumers who have called on the FCC to adopt strong regulations.

?I see him almost salivating over a congressional fight, or a fight with the carriers, over this issue,? said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk on the record. ?This is a populist issue he thinks he can win on.?

If true, that’s a good sign, but unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to promises to take on issues like this, not followed up by any actual actions. But hopefully the message is being made clearly to Wheeler at this point that there is political backing if he decides to take the most reasonable step and support reclassification.

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Comments on “Tom Wheeler Still Wants To 'Split The Baby'; Forgetting That The Point Of That Story Was Not To Actually Split The Baby”

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taiganaut says:

Right on schedule.

Obama has no authority over the FCC and can’t do anything about this. It’s a feel-good nugget tossed to the serfs, right on schedule, which means nothing. His administration has proven amazing skill at appearing to side with the people while doing no such actual thing. Usually the nuggets are culture wars stuff though… this is a bit off the beaten path, but it’s still a wedge issue, just like always.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The government will fix it!!!!!11!

The problem is that the problems we face with Broadband services (ie: high prices, poor customer service, slow speeds) are often a product of government limiting competition in various regions. So perhaps the solution is to pass additional laws to mitigate the negative impact the government has already had on the Internet by limiting competition. It’s not a great solution and a better solution would probably be to enable more competition but incumbent companies will do everything in their power to prevent competition from entering the market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The government will fix it!!!!!11!

Exclusive rights of ways where cities sign contracts with broadband providers to prevent competitors from entering the same areas as them.

Laws intended to prevent communities from creating their own community broadband services. Every time a community tries to start their own broadband services big ISP’s swoop in and do everything they can to stop it.





That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The government will fix it!!!!!11!

See, here’s why comments like this never make sense: The situation is already screwed up

The ISP’s, due to their near-monopoly positions, are already screwing over the public left and right, with no chance of changing, because as things stand now, they don’t need to. What are people supposed to do if they oppose what their ISP is doing, go to another, non-existent ISP? Or another major ISP, who, due to unofficial ‘agreements’ will provide the same crap level of service for the same ridiculous price?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The government will fix it!!!!!11!

“The net neutrality supporters seem to think the government will not make things worse. Once the government screws up the internet with net neutrality these people might figure it out but it will be to late.”

Did you miss the part about the FCC being run by the same corporations it’s pretending to regulate? There’s very little “government” in this.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Double reverse psychology?

“Perhaps Wheeler thinks he’s playing the long game here, and his apparent attraction to the hybrid plan is something of a similar decoy, but it’s not at all clear right now. “
I suspect he is merely pretending to be intelligent in saying this because people will think he is trying to use reverse psychology, but in reality he is a dumb as he sounds.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Screw it up...

Who takes them to task? You trust the Government to do that?? The same guys that are allowing them to have the monopoly in the first place? The same Government that spies on us? The same Government that has secret courts and data centers recording everything we do?…those guys?? I would rather have monopolistic shenanigans than the Gov rooting around my surfing habits and in my computers….at least i know the ISP’s want my data so they can make money… no telling why the Gov wants it…

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re: Screw it up...

When we the people allowed our Governement to put secret data collection centers inside our ISP’s, we lost the war for Net Neutrality. If business doesn’t pick the winners or losers, you can bet your ass the Gov will.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Screw it up...

“I would rather have monopolistic shenanigans than the Gov rooting around my surfing habits and in my computers”

The government is rooting around in your stuff right now anyway. They can’t really get any more intrusive on that point. So what you’re really saying here is that you’d be ripped off by the telecoms and spied on by the government instead of just spied on by the government.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Screw it up...

Corporations and the government depend on each other. You can’t have one without the other.

I’ll assume this is hyperbole. Of course, we had government and businesses long before the corporation concept was invented. Corporations are a fairly recent development in human history. The concept itself is certainly not all bad as it does create situations which are dramatic improvements over what existed before them.

Unfortunately, as in all things, too much of a good thing can be caustic and even toxic. They should be machines which aggregate investment and produce profit and jobs and pay taxes. They should not be considered persons any more than any other machine should, Commander Data not withstanding.

AJ says:

So confusing.

I’m having trouble finding my position on this issue. On the one hand, I don’t want private sector monopolies determining the winners and losers by controlling the bandwith… at the same time I really don’t think letting our government get into the middle of this is such a good idea either. However good their intentions are, historically speaking, they screw up everything they touch in the long run.

Thinking out loud here… but is the net really “neutral” now? We have throttling, shaping, seizing domains, and up/down grading search results based on the whim’s of the AA’s and whole host of other net trickery going on. ON top of that, the government is already regulating/shaping/controlling the internet using a whole host of tools and secret courts…. they could care less about “rules”.. lol… to them the internet is a giant surveillance machine.

I guess what I’m thinking is; no one is playing by the current rules…. what makes anyone think they would follow new ones?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So confusing.

Thinking out loud here… but is the net really “neutral” now? We have throttling, shaping, seizing domains, and up/down grading search results based on the whim’s of the AA’s and whole host of other net trickery going on. ON top of that, the government is already regulating/shaping/controlling the internet using a whole host of tools and secret courts…. they could care less about “rules”.. lol… to them the internet is a giant surveillance machine.

You are conflating a variety of different problems, some of them from big ISPs and some of them from Big Government. Yes, we have all those problems, and most readers of Techdirt would probably be happiest if we eliminated all of those problems instead of some of them or none of them. Despite the groundswell of anti-spying sentiment, cleaning up the secretive aspects of Big Government will take a long time, if it ever happens. Domain seizure abuses come mostly from ICE/DHS (the panty raid guys). Search result mismanagement is a function of the MPAA/RIAA (collectively, the Music and Film Industry Association of America (“MAFIAA”)) bullying search engines with the implied thread of buying more bad laws. Throttling/shaping comes mostly from the telecommunications companies that stand to lose from a regulator that does its job.

By its very nature, Big Government is too big to expect it to automatically behave in a consistent fashion. A strong leader can push it to be more consistent, but Mr. Obama has shown little interest in being that leader. Until he does, I’d rather see one regulator doing its pro-consumer job than see all the problems festering.

AJ says:

Re: Re: So confusing.

” I’d rather see one regulator doing its pro-consumer job than see all the problems festering.”

But can we trust him to do that? I guess what I’m saying is that all these people fighting over control, are all doing so with their own agenda in mind. You give some bureaucrat a Pro-Consumer job, how long until it becomes Pro-Government? The lobbyists get involved, new regulation is passed, and were right back in the same mess.

The Government has allowed the ISP’s somewhat of a monopoly. They can’t fix that by regulating them, they tried that once with the phone company, it didn’t work then either. The only way to fix this is to remove the monopoly. If there were true competition, there would be no need of protecting the consumer from the ISP’s. I think getting the Gov involved in regulating the net is just going to make things worse.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Why the delay?

If memory serves, the republican party in general(or at least the ones in the senate/house) seems to be strongly against net neutrality rules, apparently more along the lines of ‘Let the businesses themselves sort it out’.

So if you were head of the FCC, and really don’t want to bother with those pesky ‘net neutrality’ rules that people are calling for, and you know that come next year the republicans are going to have the majority in both Houses, well, just stall until they take office, and then claim that you don’t have the political clout to get any real net neutrality rules in place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why the delay?

… and then claim that you don’t have the political clout…

Also from the Washington Post story:

The White House had no additional comment beyond the president’s statement Monday, in which he said the FCC is an independent agency and “ultimately this decision is theirs alone.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Why the delay?

Congress can reign in an independent agency.

When Mr Obama nominated Mr Wheeler as head of the FCC, and he was confirmed by the Senate, the Senators —of both parties— all knew what was happening.

Tom Wheeler, Former Lobbyist and Obama Fundraiser, Tapped to Lead FCC”, by Sam Gustin, Time, May 2013

 . . . Obama added that Wheeler is “the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame.” Wheeler, a former top cable and wireless industry lobbyist, raised more than $700,000 for Obama’s two presidential election campaigns.

Last month, TIME reported that Wheeler, 67, was the front runner for the top FCC job. On Wednesday, Obama made it official. Referring to Wheeler’s lengthy experience as a lobbyist for two of the industries he will now be regulating . . .

The public knew, too, if they cared to know. It wasn’t some kind of big secret.

Anyhow, we’ve had an election since that nomination and confirmation, and do you know what? Most of the senators from a year ago —of both parties— will still be sitting in the Senate at the start of the next session.

tqk (profile) says:

When you wish upon a star, ...

But hopefully the message is being made clearly to Wheeler at this point that there is political backing if he decides to take the most reasonable step and support reclassification.

Why would he care about that, or want it? He’s the telco’s guy. He’ll very likely be going back to a cushy job with one of his former employers once his term is up at the FCC, assuming he can implement whatever it is that they want.

The fix was in when Obama appointed him. Expecting anything different is delusional. The best we can expect is to hope we can stop them from getting everything they want.

Democracy in action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When you wish upon a star, ...

Name any regulatory agency that isn’t headed by someone from inside the industry the agency is designated to regulate. This didn’t start with Obama. This is because the corporations / industry are “too big to fail” and that’s become the way US business operate.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: When you wish upon a star, ...

This didn’t start with Obama.

Yeah, I’ve got to stop doing that. I often forget how polarized US politics are. I should have said, “The fix was in when he was appointed.” I intended no slur at Obama specifically. I’m well aware both Demopublicans and Republicrats pull this !@#$. I’d no intention to tar the current President any more than the next or former ones.

For the record, I think Obama is much prettier than Hillary, Cruze, or Romney. I just wish he was President in more than just the name, but that’s hardly his fault, poor guy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Making sense of it all

The keys takeaways from the Washington Post story, linked above:

• Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and telecommunications industry, has…

• … raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama’s campaign….

• Obama last year appointed Wheeler to lead the FCC…

Does the story make sense now?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Splitting the Baby

Maybe if Obama didn’t appoint a cable industry lobbyist to head the FCC we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Yeah, I would’ve gone with somebody from the EFF instead. Maybe more people need to pony up to build up the EFF slush fund, er PAC. Hey, kickstarter …

Get on it. You know you want to. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Splitting the Baby

I would’ve gone with somebody from…

Personally, I tend to think the minimum qualification for an FCC commissioner is a bachelor’s in electrical engineering (or equivalent experience).

Well, if wishes were horses, then beggars might rein them in… Anyhow, unfortunately, telecom regulation is mind-numbing. So you probably do need a JD on top of that EE degree to be really competent at the job.

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