The White House says it doesn't want to see some sites choked by fees from Internet service providers. What would Frank Underwood do?
Whether you're a House of Cards fan peeved at the slow-streaming on Netflix or an entrepreneur concerned about getting squeezed out by Internet providers, take heart: You've got some backing on this one.
President Barack Obama's administration issued a statement in support of net neutrality on Tuesday. The statement was in response to an online petition that has attracted more than 105,000 signatures since a federal appeals court ruled on January 14 that the Federal Communications Commission doesn't have authority to force Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally.
Although the president supports a free and open Internet, Obama said he is not able to order the FCC to reclassify broadband service a utility, such as local telephone service where all calls are treated equally, The New York Times reports.
Message from the president.
The message came from the White House blog, with officials quoting Obama as saying he "strongly supports" Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman, "to use the authority granted by Congress to maintain a free and open Internet." But, the post notes, since the FCC is an independent agency--composed of three Democrats and two Republicans--he cannot order them to reclassify broadband service.
The appeals court's ruling in the case Verizon v. F.C.C. decided the agency cannot label Internet service providers as "common carriers," but it did not contest the view that the agency has legal authority over Internet service.
The White House's blog post, written by Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Todd Park, the country's chief technology officer, said:
"Because of its openness, the Internet has allowed entrepreneurs--with just a small amount of seed money or a modest grant--to take their innovative ideas from the garage or the dorm room to every corner of the Earth, building companies, creating jobs, improving vital services, and fostering even more innovation along the way. . . Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries."
But Internet-based companies, especially online video-streaming service Netflix, is already feeling the pinch from the debate--and new rules would need to come to the table quickly.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the conflict between Verizon and Netflix has affected Internet users. For customers using Verizon's fiber-optic FiOS service, Netflix claims average prime-time speeds dropped by 14 percent in January. And with Emmy-award winning series "House of Cards" just released last Friday, many customers are feeling the slowdown with longer-than-average loading times while using Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast, Netflix's data shows.
But Internet providers claim Netflix sends far more traffic over broadband networks than they take back, accounting for a third of all North American Internet peak traffic, WSJ reports.
With a stand off between Internet service providers, the FCC, and Internet companies, the question is, what would Kevin Spacey's character Frank Underwood do? Certainly, the president wouldn't want to know.
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz