While he was on campaign for the presidency in 2007, President Barack Obama took to the MTV airwaves to answer questions that concerned the youth of America. According to an Internet poll the channel had going at the time, the biggest question on people’s minds was a question on a topic that remains relevant now more than ever: net neutrality.
“Would you make it a priority in your first year in office to reinstate net neutrality as the law of the land?” Joe Niedenberger, a small business owner from New Jersey, asked Senator Obama. “And would you pledge to only appoint FCC commissioners that support open internet principles like net neutrality?“
“The answer is yes. I am a strong supporter of net neutrality,” candidate Obama responded. “As President, I am going to make sure that my FCC commissioners are applying [those principles] as we move forward.”
The above video was posted this morning by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee (PAC) that is calling for current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to step down “so that the president can appoint someone who will stand up for Internet freedom.”
A leak to the Washington Post last week showed that the FCC under Wheeler’s leadership is considering proposing rules that would allow Internet service providers to give preferential treatment to traffic from certain content providers– a proposal that critics say flies in the face of net neutrality principles.
The commission’s Open Internet Rules were struck down in a federal appeals court this January, which left room for the body to rewrite the rules to how the internet works. Only a month after the rules were struck down, Netflix struck a deal with Comcast that would give the movie streaming service preferentially fast speeds.
To many, this was a proof that the Internet as we know it was coming to a close.
“The FCC is an independent agency and we haven’t seen the [FCC's proposed new rules] yet, so I can’t offer much beyond what we have said before: the President strongly supports net neutrality,” White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas wrote in a statement to Fusion. “The FCC Chairman has said that his goal is to preserve an open internet and that he has all the tools he needs to do it. We have been clear from the start that we support that goal and will be closely following these developments as the FCC launches its proceeding.”
The statement reflects the sentiment Obama expressed in the video above, but fails to explain why Wheeler was nominated by Obama for the post last year in the first place. A Gothamist article from last week outlines a series of Wheeler’s past actions and statements that could appear to be at odds with the White House’s stated goals.
Among things listed is his past as a lobbyist for cell phone and cable companies, and his vocal support for an AT&T/ Verizon merger that was shot down by the Department of Justice. It is also worth noting that Wheeler managed to raise about $700,000 total for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Daniel Alvarez, an attorney for Comcast and advocate against net neutrality, now forms part of Wheeler’s personal legal team, along with former Ambassador Phillip Verveer, who also worked for Comcast and lobbying groups against neutrality.
A request for comment from the FCC for this article was denied.
UPDATES: White House comments and additional background on Wheeler added 4:00pm on Thursday, May 1, 2014. FCC responded to an inquiry with a decline to comment at 4:50pm.