Obama Announces Support For Net Neutrality

Giuseppe Macri | Tech Editor

President Obama on Monday firmly endorsed the call for net neutrality, encouraging the Federal Communications Commission to “implement the strongest possible rules” to prevent Internet service providers from establishing tiers of faster or slower service based on price.

“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted,” Obama said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.  That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

Earlier this summer, the FCC voted to begin considering new rules over net neutrality after a federal court in January shot down longstanding rules in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed the agency to regulate ISPs much like basic utility telephone services. The court told the agency it was treating the providers too much like common communications carriers. (RELATED: FCC Votes For New ‘Net Neutrality’ Internet Regulations) 

The commission’s plan, which FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described earlier this year as an effort to preserve, “One Internet. Not a fast Internet, not a slow Internet; one Internet,” has since largely evolved into a fight between service providers and content providers, the latter of whom accuse ISPs of attempting to segregate traffic into fast and slow speeds for higher profits. Some 4 million public commenters have since joined the debate on the FCC’s website, the majority siding with content providers. (RELATED: John Oliver Breaks The FCC’s Internet With Net Neutrality)

Those opposed support re-classifying the Internet as a common-carrier similar to telephone service providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — the same solution endorsed by Obama Monday.

“To be current, these rules must also build on the lessons of the past,” Obama said. “For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business.  That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider.  It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.”

The rules Obama called for include:

·         No blocking.  If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it.  That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.

·         No throttling.  Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.

·         Increased transparency.  The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment.  So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.

·         No paid prioritization.  Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee.  That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.  So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

Chief Executive Officer Scott Belcher of the Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents manufacturers and suppliers of high-tech communications networks, expressed his concern Monday over the president’s call for re-classification.

“Such a move would set the industry back decades, and threaten the private sector investment that is critically needed to ensure that the network can meet surging demand,” Belcher said in a statement. “We saw a significant negative impact on investment the last time restrictive Title II regulation was in place, and no one will benefit from returning to that failed policy.  As manufacturers and suppliers who build the Internet backbone and supply the devices and services that ride over it, our companies strongly urge regulators to refrain from reclassification that will guarantee harm to consumers, the economy, and the very technologies we’re trying to protect.”

Monday’s statement comes after recent reports suggest the FCC may be considering a “hybrid” approach to the issue by heavily regulating interconnect points, while also allowing for some level of faster paid prioritized service.

“As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the president’s submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding,” Wheeler said Monday in response to Obama’s statement. “We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act.”

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