US President Barack Obama on November 10 called for the government to aggressively regulate Internet service providers (ISPs), treating Internet service like a public utility as essential as phone service, electricity, and water.
‘Treat Internet as Essential Utility’
Obama said his call to regulate ISPs more like public utilities aims to make sure everyone is granted equal access to all content providers. This call touches off intense protests from cable and telecoms companies, as well as Republican lawmakers.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency that will establish its own rules. Obama’s public statement, however, puts pressure on the agency to adopt a new set of regulations that will allow greater oversight of Internet service providers.
The president’s detailed statement calling for protection of “net neutrality” was a rare intervention direct from the White House into the policy setting of an independent agency. Net neutrality is one of the platforms in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” the president said in a statement released by the White House. Obama is currently in Asia for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
“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.”
Keeping the Internet Free
If ISPs were to be regulated by the FCC, the move will have a dramatic effect on cable and telecom companies that have fought vigorously to keep their highly lucrative trade unregulated.
The president explained the rules he is proposing “should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital.” The key, he adds, is for the rules to be designed carefully.
“…Combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.”
No to Paid Prioritization
The FCC was flooded with almost 4 million comments this year after Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new Internet traffic rules seeking to prohibit ISPs from blocking any content. The proposal, however, would still allow content companies to strike “commercially reasonable” deals to ensure their websites and apps load faster and smoother.
While the chairman pledged to police such paid-prioritization deals that would harm consumers, public interest groups warned the proposed rules could create “fast lanes” for the paying companies and relegate others to “slow lanes.”
Telecom providers, including Verizon, have expressed their opposition to the measure and said they would fight it in court.
“Reclassification under Title II, which for the first time would apply 1930s-era utility regulation to the Internet, would be a radical reversal of course that would in and of itself threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation. That course will likely also face strong legal challenges and would likely not stand up in court,” Verizon said in a statement.