November 10, 2014 Last Updated 3:07 pm

President Obama calls for FCC to treat the Internet as a utility, cable companies loudly object

But is the President serious, or merely trying to deflect blame for what be believes will be a consumer backlash to a new FCC ruling?

There are few things as unpopular as the cable companies: lawyers, the phone companies, journalists, come to mind. Politicians, too. So when President Obama today called on the FCC to treat the Internet as a utility, the knee jerk reaction from many involved which party they liked the least.

Everyone says they love the Internet, but make it a utility?

“Time Warner Cable remains committed to an open Internet,” the cable company said, “but we disagree with the President’s statement that an open Internet can only be achieved by reclassifying broadband as a public utility.”

“Comcast fully embraces the open Internet principles that the President and the Chairman of the FCC have espoused — transparency, no blocking, non-discrimination rules, and no “fast lanes”, which is the way we operate our network today,” Comcast said in reaction to the President’s statement today.


“We continue to believe, however, that section 706 provides more than ample authority to impose those rules, as the DC Circuit made clear.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) isn’t a fan of making the Internet a utility, either: “Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government. Cruz wrote on Twitter. At least no mention of ‘death panels’ was tweeted.

It would be nice to think that the President is actually serious about calling for the FCC to regulate the Internet as a utility. But after six years of broken promises it is hard to take the President’s statement at face value.

President Obama placed a cable business lobbyist as head of the commission and most think the FCC will give the cable companies what they want. To do so would, of course, only make the President’s supporters even more disappointed in him. The President risks nothing in calling for action from the FCC; if they ignore him and rule for the cable companies he might not get blamed. As for what the cable companies and Ted Cruz have to say, few of those who voted for the President in 2008 or 2012 really care.

“The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone,” the President said. “I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.”

But the chair of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, did not accept his position at the agency in order to strongly regulate private enterprise, he was named the chair precisely because he wouldn’t. As the chair of a committee that would naturally be split on the issue of regulation, it would be entirely up to Wheeler what the FCC ultimately decides to do, thus it is easy to make Tom Wheeler the focus of attention rather than the President – it’s called giving the President cover.

For now we have fireworks. But in the end we could end up with almost anything. Despite the President’s public blessing that the FCC could go forward with Title II reclassification (which would allow the FCC to regulate the Internet as a public utility), that step seems highly unlikely.

But if the agency does, one must remember that other companies involved in public utilities are hardly finding the going tough. Regulation of an industry generally locks in profits, and prices almost never go down. In fact, one wonders what the cable companies have to complain about should they find that a major part of their business is now considered a public utility like water, gas and electric. The airlines, after all, were generally profitable when regulated, and rarely are today.

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