Obama's net neutrality proclamation won't help solve the problem

Despite—or maybe even because of—the President’s strong statement on net neutrality, the controversy just isn’t going away.

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Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

It’s no secret where I stand on the concept of net neutrality. I firmly believe that the Internet should be equally open to all comers, and that if companies and consumers are paying for internet access they should get equal access to the entire internet, not just the parts their provider is getting paid to provide.

See also: Why the FCC's net neutrality proposal is fundamentally dishonest

Given that, you’d think I be thrilled that President Obama yesterday delivered his whole-hearted support for a strong version of the net neutrality concept. Declaring that the Internet should be regulated as a utility, the President took a position far stronger, in fact, than what the FCC has been proposing. (As noted above, while the FCC talks about net neutrality, its actions and plans don’t really deliver on the concept.) Grant Gross at the IDG News Service says that Obama has given the FCC political cover to regulate the net. 

Unfortunately, that’s not how I see it. Net neutrality was already a political hot potato, and Obama choosing to push the issue right after having his political capital eviscerated by a devastating midterm setback is likely to make things that much worse.

Obamacare for the Internet?

Obama’s weighing in on the issue has already spurred Texas Senator Ted Cruz to call net neutrality "Obamacare for the Internet." That brought an amazing response, courtesy of the comics site The Oatmeal, that was perhaps the best-ever explanation of why net neutrality is so important. That divide just about sums up the current situation.

See also: Why even ISPs will regret the end of net neutrality

On one hand you’ve got the big cable companies and telcos that provide broadband, and on the other side you’ve got the big Internet companies and all the startups and various net advocacy groups. You’d think that would be a fairly even fight, and not necessarily a Democrat vs. Republican issue.  

But that’s not how it’s playing out. The net neutrality fight no longer has any relationship to which groups win or lose based on what’s decided; it’s now completely about politics and ideology.

No way to compromise?

Whatever the merits of the question—either for or against—the political forces have made it so there’s now no way that either side can compromise. The battle is likely to drag on, with no real resolution but ever-increasing rancor. At this point, I don’t see a firm decision being possible until after the 2016 election at the earliest, and then only if the Democrats or Republicans win both houses of Congress and the Oval Office so they can push through their agenda.

Maybe—probably—that would have happened anyway. But the way I see it, Obama drawing a line in the sand that he can’t really defend didn’t help. It just convinced the other side that this is a political battle, not a practical or technical one.

Boy, I hope I’m wrong about this one.

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