The president says that all Internet service providers should “protect Net neutrality” and agree to not block or throttle Internet traffic.
President Barack Obama has issued his strongest message yet that the Internet should be kept “free and open.”
In a statement released Monday, Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to maintain Net neutrality and ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) are not allowed “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 to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” President Obama said in the statement.
The FCC is working on a new set of rules for Internet oversight in the US. Those rules were expected to be made available later this year, though reports now claim they may be delayed until early 2015.
The agency earlier this year saw a vigorous response from the public to its call for comments on its Open Internet proposals, with the FCC’s servers sometimes stumbling and crashing under the overwhelming input. The comment window closed in September.
Net neutrality, which is the principle that ISPs and governments treat all Web traffic the same, has long been a debate around the US with no clear victory for either side. Consumers and many Internet companies argue that the Internet should remain open and that all traffic should be treated equally. Opponents have argued for a toll road of sorts that would provide better service to companies that pay to support their high traffic volumes. That has created widespread concern that ISPs could throttle service in some instance, intentionally slowing down some content streams and speeding up others.
Earlier this year, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler came under fire after an early proposal for his rules on Internet access were made available. While Wheeler has said that he fully supports the open Internet, the proposal could allow for paid prioritization of Internet traffic.
“I will say it again, there is nothing in the proposal that authorizes fast lanes on the Internet,” the chairman said earlier this year. “It simply asks questions, such as should there be a ban on paid prioritization. But there is nothing in the rule that authorizes it.”
At the crux of the debate over Net neutrality is Title II of the Telecommunications Act. That section, which is more than 100 pages long, regulates how common carriers must conduct business across all forms of communication in order to act “in the public interest.” Net neutrality supporters say that the language is vague and could be used to sidestep a free and open Internet and give ISPs the opportunity to sign deals with Internet companies that would provide for prioritization of traffic.
Obama was clear on his commitment to Title II, saying that broadband should be reclassified under the act “while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”
“This is a basic acknowledgment 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 said.