Analyst: Obama Down on 'Openess' Mandates


While backers of network neutrality have cheered President Obama's May 29 shout-out for the concept, Scott Cleland of the Precursor Group argues the president's strong message on cyber-security effectively redefines the idea — in a way that could actually be a boost to opponents of such mandates.

In a blog post last week included as a link in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Cleland said the president's new emphasis on security could be a game-changer.

“It practically takes any extreme form of net neutrality off the table,” he said.

Cleland represents cable and telecom companies — including Comcast and Time Warner Cable — in an online push against network neutrality. The group,, raises warnings about a government-run Internet with “activist regulation of broadband prices, terms and conditions.”

Cleland pointed to the president's declaration that the administration would “deter, prevent, detect and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage.” That moves the discussion beyond pejoratives such as “discrimination,” “block,” “degrade” and “impair,” he said.

Cleland said the administration's commitment to public/private partnership on security protection “strongly suggests the government is not going to force 'openness' on the private sector in the form of dictates or mandates.”

Obama said his administration would not dictate security standards. Cleland interprets that to mean it will not dictate “net neutrality standards/regulations that could limit or handcuff network companies' ability to protect the nation's communications infrastructure from cyber-attack.”

The White House did not respond to a request to clarify just what it did mean.

Netcompetition recommended to the FCC that a national broadband plan should “elevate cybersecurity as a national priority.”

Other analysts disagreed with Cleland's take on how Obama's statement on cyber-security might influence net-neutrality policies. Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, which has long pushed for codifying network neutrality into law, said, “President Obama made it clear that his administration considers net neutrality the standard, not the exception, when it comes to Internet and technology policy.”

Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project conceded some of Cleland's point, but suggested he was overstating the case for effect.

“In one sense, Scott is right since his 'extreme' version of net neutrality is never what advocates have sought,” Schwartzman said. “More generally, though, I see no inconsistency between full-throated support of net neutrality and the tools that Obama discussed.”

Reasonable network management, said Schwartzman, “is always permissible; discrimination for competitive purposes is not.”

Network neutrality is topical now because of the FCC's charter to come up with guidelines for the national broadband plan and because agencies within the Commerce and Agriculture departments have been tasked with determining access conditions for billions in broadband stimulus grant money to be handed out soon.