FCC Chairman to John Oliver: I am not a dingo

Tom Wheeler says John Oliver's segment on net neutrality, which brought down the FCC site, was creative.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

John Oliver and (his version of) Tom Wheeler. Last Week Tonight With Jonh Oliver/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Whenever someone is placed in charge of an important but somehow dull entity, there is always the suspicion that it takes a certain sort of animal to do that kind of job. It's a delight, therefore, to reveal that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is not a baby-eating dingo.

You might think it odd that someone would accuse him of this. In which case, you must have missed John Oliver's searing 13-minute indictment earlier this month on his satirical news program "Last Week Tonight," in which he alleged the imminent disappearance of net neutrality.

In it, Oliver suggested that cable companies behave like drug cartels. He also offered that the appointment of former industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler as chairman of the FCC was "the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo."

So it was, Wheeler felt compelled to dispel the notion that he is excessively hairy and has four legs.

As US News and World Report revealed, Wheeler was in a press conference on Friday where someone had the temerity to ask what he thought of Oliver's sketch. There is no evidence that Wheeler barked, but he was said to be defensive in answering: "I would like to state for the record that I am not a dingo."

Wheeler insisted that Oliver's piece was "creative," but said Oliver failed to mentioned the FCC is actually trying to revive the idea of an open Internet that was removed by a federal appeals court in January. At the time, Wheeler said that the FCC would fight to "ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans."

In any event, Oliver's extremely funny ululation wasn't appreciated by all. Analyst Rich Greenfield, for example, insists: "Today, ISPs are free to create fast lanes, slow certain traffic down, etc. There are literally no Internet rules whatsoever following the Verizon legal victory earlier this year. In turn, Oliver saying that the FCC is ruining the Internet by setting up a two-tiered Internet is factually incorrect. They are merely trying to provide a working framework for the Internet."

Moreover, Greenfield says that Internet fast lanes already exist -- some of which help you watch shows like Oliver's own "Last Week Tonight" in good definition. For this, your cable operator has dedicated a certain amount of bandwidth in advance.

Still, the FCC must have been a touch surprised that a topic as detailed (and therefore dull) as net neutrality caught American imaginations.

In his segment earlier this month, Oliver asked the nation's trolls to go to the FCC's comments page. Soon, it collapsed under the strain. (The page, not the FCC.)

At heart, though, is less the notion of right and wrong. It's the inability of government entities to sell their side of the story, as well as Oliver sold his (perhaps marginally warped) side.

What a lovely day it would be when policy makers could explain to the people what they were doing and the people would reply: "Oh, yeah. That makes sense."

Of course it could be that, given the lobbying on the part of powerful monied forces, policy never makes sense at all.