This afternoon, Senior Advisor for Technology and Economic Policy David Edelman took to Reddit to answer questions about President Obama's plan to keep the Internet open and free.
The "Ask Me Anything" session followed today's statement by President Obama urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take up stronger rules protecting net neutrality. During the Q&A session, David answered a range of questions on this important issue. You can see all of the responses on Reddit, or check out the full Q&A below.
INTRODUCTION: Hey Reddit, I'm R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Technology and Economic Policy at the White House. That means I get to work on a range of tech and internet issues near and dear to you all, including net neutrality. The President just made a big announcement on that today and is urging the FCC to keep the internet open and free. You can check out the President's plan here:http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/net-neutrality
I'll be here at 2pm ET to answer your questions about the President's plan and what it means. Ask me anything.
UPDATE 1: PROOF: https://twitter.com/ObamaWhiteHouse/status/531871469861863424
UPDATE 2: Hi, Reddit. I'm ready to get started. Thanks everyone for joining.
Question: So, what is the President going to actually DO? The FCC Chairman Wheeler does not seem to want to cooperate with consumers on this issue, and seems beholden to companies like his former employer. I know he couldn't easily replace Wheeler, but what actions is the president planning on doing besides talking about this on the White House website? Thanks for doing this AMA so quickly after announcing views on net neutrality.
Reply: Thanks for your question. So here's how the FCC process works. As you probably know, the FCC asks for public comment on an issue -- and this time, almost 4 million people responded. That's unprecedented. Today, the President added his voice to that growing chorus of support for safeguarding strong net neutrality. He issued a plan for how the FCC can do that -- with specifics of what rules are necessary to protect an open internet. The decision now lies with the FCC.
Follow up question: Thank you for your response. I was one of many who responded to the FCC when they asked for public comment. Is the President going to attempt anything more aggressive (through legislation, new appointments, etc.) than simply asking the FCC and outlining it for them? I would like to say that while I am critical of the situation, I am glad that the President is coming out with a pretty unambiguous definition of what net neutrality means to him.
Reply: Thanks, mi_buger. This is obviously something the President feels very strongly about, and we appreciate your support.
Question: How does it matter? Since the telecoms can write larger checks than the users of the services, we have no say in this.
Reply: I think this issue has made clear that just isn't the case. Nearly four million people had their view heard. And today, the President added his voice further elevating this issue to the very top of the public debate. That's hard to ignore.
Take another issue, like cell phone unlocking. That wasn't on anyone's radar screens until it broke on We the People -- the White House's petition platform. And after we outlined a way to fix it, we had FCC action, industry agreements, and ultimately, a bill signed by the President. All because of voices like yours.
Question: Everyone else is asking political questions so I'm just gonna ask you something else. What is your favorite website that you go to for fun when you have free time?
Reply: Besides Reddit? </pandering>
Question: How does President Obama justify having appointed Tom Wheeler, a former telecom lobbyist and obvious conflict of interest with his platform of protecting Internet freedom and Net Neutrality?
Reply: The FCC is an independent agency with five Commissioners, and ultimately, it's their job to decide on the rule independently. It's our job to serve the President laying out HIS vision for how to achieve an open internet. Tom is deeply knowledgeable about these issues, and has a long history of dealing with them.
The President has weighed in with his views, and now it’s the Commission’s turn to run their process.
Reply: The telecommunications act empowers the FCC to apply the parts of the law that are appropriate to the technology at the time. As the technologies change, so does the way in which the FCC applies the law.
As the President said today, "if carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs...If the FCC appropriately forbears from the Title II regulations that are not needed to implement the principles above — principles that most ISPs have followed for years — it will help ensure new rules are consistent with incentives for further investment in the infrastructure of the internet."
Question: Why did he wait until after the midterms to suddenly announce this? Why did he nominate a person to head the FCC with the exact opposite goal?
Reply: As people who have been following this for a while, you know that net neutrality has been a longstanding priority for the President. He made that clear as far back as 2007, when he said that he “takes a backseat to no one” in protecting online freedoms and innovation in the Internet marketplace. The plan the President outlined today is another extension of that philosophy and the clearest way to protect Net Neutrality for everyone.
That's why the President felt that it was important to outline steps that he believes the FCC should put in place to protect net neutrality as the FCC considers the path forward. Over the past few months, the President has worked with his policy teams to analyze all the available options and to formulate the strongest possible proposal to protect net neutrality. The President also recognizes that almost 4 million Americans, and dozens of companies large and small, have written to the FCC to express strong views on this issue.
Question: In Obama's plan, is there any emphasis on improving competition for service providers? Where I live, I have a choice of Comcast or Verizon DSL, which is remarkably slower. So, while I have a "choice", I really don't have a good second option. I feel a lot of people out there face similar circumstances and would like to have more alternatives for Internet providers.
Reply: Thanks -- this is a great question, though net neutrality is only one component.
As I mentioned before, competition is huge. The FCC has highlighted that 3/4 of American homes have no competitive choice at 25Mbps -- and that's a problem. And 20% of Americans have no choice at all at those speeds. The good news is, there has also been major investment over the last five years -- from 2009 to 2012, the broadband and mobile industry's annual investment grew from around $21 billion to $30 billion -- notably, while net neutrality rules were in effect.
Question: Regarding Obama's quote of, "So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services."
How can one, in good faith, say that the Internet is both a public utility that should get the protection that it deserves under the existing Telecommunications Act and then also say that it should have its own rules that go against the Telecommunications Act? Is it being suggested that the Telecommunications Act be amended to allow for so-called fast lanes?
Reply: While the President has made clear that he supports reclassifying broadband service under Title II, as the best fit for the internet service we all use today -- but the statute also grants important flexibility to the FCC to tailor its rules in a way that is most appropriate to the technology. That's what the President is urging the FCC to do.
Question: What is the strongest argument you've heard against net neutrality?
Reply: Good question. Like any consequential policy debate, there's passion on all sides -- you've seen a lot of that around the Internet today. Let me start out by saying that the arguments FOR net neutrality are overwhelming, and the stories that we have heard over the last months and years, in response to the President's leadership on this issue, have meant a lot. Founder after founder of start-ups have told us that without a free and open Internet, they would have never had a chance to get started, and grow from a garage to a Fortune 1000 company.
Any rule on net neutrality has to be carefully designed. And it's certainly our hope that they won't be needed -- that ISPs won't be engaging in the sorts of practices that would have them collecting tolls from edge providers, or picking winners and losers. Some have argued that in a truly competitive broadband marketplace, you could see ISPs competing with different prioritization packages -- maybe one specific to gaming, for instance. But today, broadband markets in the United States aren't competitive enough to support that. There continue to be challenges of broadband competition, but with strong net neutrality rules, we can ensure Internet users in under-served markets are protected.
UPDATE 3: Thanks, everyone. I'm afraid I have to run, but we'll try to get a few more of these answered throughout the afternoon. Appreciate the thoughtful questions, and your interest in this hugely important issue.
UPDATE 4: Thanks for your patience -- getting to a few more answers now.
Question: Do you like the walking dead? I don't mean the show. Would you actually like it if the dead got up and started walking around?
Answer: No, that sounds awful.
Question: Hello, i am a student at George Washington University. What can i do to become an intern for your office or, perhaps, a 'better' position?
Answer: Hi, thanks for your interest! It's always great to see folks interested in public service. I did some internships myself when I was in college, and it was a great way to check out policy. You can start here for more information about the White House internship.
Departments and Agencies like State and Commerce have their own programs as well, so don't forget to check them out as well. State's where I got my start.
Question: Putting Net Neutrality aside for a moment. What is the President's stance on patent reform? In particular, how does the administration plan to combat the patent troll environment that exists today in the software world? Innovation has been stifled in many ways by broad patents or patents held by non-practicing entities. Is this even on the administration's radar?
Answer: You may know that this is not something most people were talking about two years ago. But us policy-types had actually been looking at it for some time, and on 2/4/13, the President did G+ hangout and gave a pretty forward-leaning answer to the patent troll issue. At his direction, we ran a process that led to some announcements about ways the Patent Office would improve the way it did business, and also laid out a set of priorities for Congress to take action. In December, the House passed a bill addressing the patent troll issue, and while the Senate has yet to act, we continue to find new ways to improve the patent system on our own.
But a comprehensive solution requires revisions to law, so we’ll keep pressing Congress to enact comprehensive patent reform legislation. This isn’t a partisan issue, and we hope it is really is something that can get done next year, if we continue to echo calls like these.
Question: Will Net Neutrality be Strongly Enforced and How, if the Providers violate Censorship or Bandwidth Equal Access rules?
Answer: The enforcement actions themselves are up to the FCC, and are independent. But I can tell you that the rules the President outlined today would certainly allow for enforcement should they be violated by any ISP, wired or wireless. That’s why the rules the President is urging the FCC to pass are straightforward, bright-line rules banning practices like blocking or paid prioritization.
Question: I know nothing about politics, but my reaction (being jaded by politics) is that this is a reaction to the majority republican house/senate. And by being at the front of this movement which is important to so many people, they'll opt to blame the republicans when things don't get done (because nothing gets done at congress (because that's how congress works).
Can you help me be more optimistic about this wonderful thing?
Answer: Tall order, but let me try: The election was not a factor in this particular case. Period. This was simply the President following through on his call for net neutrality, which has been a longstanding priority for him. As far back as 2007, he made clear that he “takes a backseat to no one” when it comes to protecting online freedoms and innovation in the Internet marketplace. The plan the President outlined today is another extension of that philosophy and the clearest way to protect Net Neutrality for everyone.
Question: Why has every FCC net neutrality proposal put forward been misaligned (if not outright contradictory) with the White House's new/clarified stance on the issue? Has anyone in the executive branch ever consulted with the Electronic Frontier Foundation?
Answer: I don't think they have. In fact, just today, the EFF came out and said "The White House Gets It Right On Net Neutrality.".
Question: why did he wait until after the midterms to suddenly announce this? why did he nominate a person to head the FCC with the exact opposite goal?
Answer: Let me do this again on a higher thread: the election was not a factor in this particular case. Period. For more, see reply below [Ed. note: see above].
Question: Is there a plan to Support/Allow/Protect Cooperatives in any municipalities, towns, villages or communities that want to build/own, maintain/control Last Mile & WiFi?
Answer: This is something that Tom Wheeler has actually opened an inquiry into, and that the FCC is seriously examining. Having heard from a number of communities where it has made a difference, we have been looking into the issue as well, and while it's clear most of the work here is at the state and local level, we would of course welcome your thoughts about what the Executive Branch might be able to do within our authorities.
UPDATE 5: Thanks everyone, I appreciate your really thoughtful questions. Hope I got some of them answered. It's has been an exciting day for the future of net neutrality, and I hope you'll continue to stay engaged. Have a great night. -rD