In the latest chapter of the continuing drama known as net neutrality, President Barack Obama issued a statement calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a utility that will eliminate the possibility of Internet fast lanes.
“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,” the President said. “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.”
Controversy has swirled since a January decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s prior net neutrality regulations. The agency subsequently announced that it was considering new regs that would allow for “fast lanes” where Internet service providers afford certain companies preferential treatment by paying for faster service.
The FCC’s request for public comment led to a record-setting number of opposition comments that overloaded the FCC’s website.
The President joined the chorus and asked the FCC “to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” He advocated that the agency change the classification of broadband under Title II of the Communications Act from an “information” service to a “telecommunications service,” which would then subject it to the common carrier rules that includes a prohibition on discrimination.
Digital rights groups and consumer organizations praised the President’s stance while cable companies and telecoms were less than thrilled.
Public Knowledge president Gene Kimmelman applauded the President’s support for “the strongest tools to deter fast lanes and prioritized traffic on the public’s most essential communications platform of the 21st century”; however, industry group US Telecom Association characterized it as “baffling.”
Politicians also shared their two cents. “What the President is asking the FCC to do … is simply common sense,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) opined. On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted: “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.”
To read President Obama’s statement, click here.
Why it matters: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler – who thanked the President for his “important and welcome addition to the record” – had hoped to pass new regulations by the end of 2014. But he recently said more time is needed for the Commission to figure out what to do. News reports have speculated that the FCC is now considering a “hybrid” proposal that would establish two separate services: a retail service without fast lanes and a “back-end” service in which ISPs could charge extra fees for faster delivery. Without a clear consensus and with net neutrality becoming an increasingly politically charged issue, new regulations are unlikely in the near future.