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Obama Calls on FCC to Enact Strict Net Neutrality Rules

Net neutrality protest at the White House, November 2014. (Joseph Gruber)

Net neutrality protest at the White House, November 2014. (Joseph Gruber)

President Barack Obama on Monday voiced his strongest support yet for a free and open Internet, imploring the Federal Communications Commission to adopt strict net neutrality rules.

Obama issued a statement, along with a video, on the White House website, supporting net neutrality and formally opposing business deals in which content providers would pay Internet companies for faster online access.

“Ever since the Internet was created, it’s been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom,” Obama said in the video. “There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no ‘toll roads’ on the information superhighway.”

“This set of principles — the idea of net neutrality — has unleashed the power of the Internet and given innovators the chance to thrive,” the president continued. “Abandoning these principles would threaten to end the Internet as we know it.”

In his statement, Obama called net neutrality “a principle that we cannot take for granted.”

“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,” he said.

“I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online,” Obama added.

Under the president’s proposed plan, the FCC would classify broadband Internet as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, under which the FCC regulates telecom companies.

Doing so, Obama asserted, would serve as a “basic acknowledgement of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.”

Obama’s plan would involve four steps that some ISPs already observe:

-No Blocking: ISPs would be prohibited from blocking user access to any legal content.

“That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business,” Obama explains.

-No Throttling: ISPs would be prohibited from ‘throttling’ — intentionally speeding up or slowing down selected sites or content.

-Increased Transparency: Obama wants the FCC to “make full use of transparency authorities” and, if necessary, 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,” asserts Obama. “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.”

Net neutrality advocates hailed Obama’s announcement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading non-profit organization dedicated to defending civil liberties in the digital world, called it “very welcome news.”

“This is an important moment in the fight for the open Internet,” EFF’s Corynne McSherry wrote. “President Obama has chosen to stand with the us: the users, the innovators, the creators who depend on an open Internet.”

But broadband providers, including Comcast and Verizon, have been aggressively lobbying against net neutrality, arguing regulation could hurt their business.

“The Internet has not just appeared by accident or gift — it has been built by companies like ours investing and building networks and infrastructure,” Comcast executive David Cohen said in a statement. “The policy the White House is encouraging would jeopardize this engine for job creation and investment as well as the innovation cycle that the Internet has generated.”

Some conservative lawmakers, many of them funded by the corporations opposing net neutrality, also voiced their opposition to the president’s plan.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted on Monday that net neutrality is the the “Obamacare of the Internet” and that the “Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”

Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter added that net neutrality would empower the government with “determining pricing, terms of service, and what products can be delivered.”

Carpenter asked: “Sound like Obamacare much?”

Open Internet advocates countered that net neutrality isn’t about control, but rather freedom.

“Obama is not saying the government should wrest control from private companies and start administering the Internet itself,” wrote Gizmodo’s Kate Knibbs. “He is trying to keep the Internet as an equalizer. There is no need for political polarization here.”

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