On Monday, President Obama unambiguously endorsed the concept of net neutrality, and called for the Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband as a utility, like water or gas. The goal was to pass regulation that would ensure a fair and open Internet for everyone, and not just deep-pocketed web companies that could pay Internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon for so-called “Internet fast lanes,” which critics argue would put smaller competitors and startups at a disadvantage.
On Tuesday evening during a meeting with large web companies, including Google and Yahoo, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinted that he is inching toward a different resolution that won’t be quite so cut and dried.
The Washington Post reports that a “visibly frustrated Wheeler” told the companies in attendance: “What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business… What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.” According to insiders, Wheeler “worries that the president’s more drastic approach is too simplistic.”
Obama’s surprise statement on Monday—which you can read in its entirety here—has been read as a move to galvanize his base of young, tech-savvy liberal voters, which puts Wheeler in a tricky position. According to the Post, Obama and Wheeler “have long been allies,” and his appointment as FCC head last year by the president was a vote of confidence that he could lead the agency through its thorniest, most complicated legal issue in a decade.