Obama Voices Strong Support for Net Neutrality

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama –Getty Images

With the FCC still considering new “net neutrality’’ rules, activists have been pushing the federal agency to reclassify the Internet as a utility, giving the FCC the ability to regulate it like other forms of telecommunications.

Now President Barack Obama has come out in favor of that move, signaling a full embrace from the White House of the net neutrality principles that have governed the Internet for most of its existence.

Net neutrality refers to the idea that Internet service providers should not be able to discriminate against or give favor to certain web traffic. Without net neutrality in place, ISPs could, for example, charge companies to make it easier for users to access its website. These sorts of potential deals have been referred to as “fast lanes.’’ It’s an imperfect term, but it gets the point across. The prospect has enraged both web users and most of the tech community, who have voiced a combination of consumer, innovation, and business concerns.

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The FCC previously had rules on the books governing net neutrality, but they were shot down by a federal court, which said the FCC didn’t have the authority to enforce its rules; that led the commission to consider new regulations. A proposal released earlier this year would have allowed for the establishment of some of these fast lanes under certain circumstances. But in an open commenting period for those rules, activists voiced their demand of reclassification, making the Internet a common carrier similar to phone or water services, which would give the FCC legal authority to maintain net neutrality rules.

“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,’’ Obama said in a statement. “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.’’

Obama’s full statement includes four rules he thinks should be part of net neutrality regulations.

The FCC is not beholden to Obama’s input, as the president noted in the statement. But his use of the bully pulpit on the issue brought the discussion to the forefront Monday morning. FCC chair Tom Wheeler said he was “grateful for the input of the president,’’ according to The Washington Post, and that it would be incorporated into the public record. ISPs ultimately voiced their opposition to Obama’s suggestion. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas took to Twitter to join them, calling net neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet.’’ And Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims pointed to Cruz’s partisan reaction in suggesting that maybe, regardless of how you feel about net neutrality, Obama should have sat this one out.

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