The White House and the Federal Communications Commission might be gearing up to do battle over the issue of net neutrality.
President Obama Monday called on the FCC to develop "the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality." To that end, the President recommended that the agency reclassify broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service, a move that would be popular with consumers but unpopular with Internet service providers.
The proposed approach, also known as Title II or common carrier, would give the FCC more authority over broadband providers than it has now. If Obama pushed for it, he would likely face a huge fight from ISPs.
"Simply put: No service should be stuck in a 'slow lane' because it does not pay a fee," Obama said. "That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet's growth."
ISPs Fire Back
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which represents the country's largest ISPs, quickly responded to Obama's statement.
"We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme Title II regulation," said NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell, who was chairman of the FCC under President George W. Bush.
Telecom giant Comcast seconded the NCTA's concerns.
"To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper," the company said.
Obama, who is traveling in Asia, posted a statement and video message online conceding that since the FCC is an independent agency, it can rule on the issue autonomously. But he agreed with consumer advocates by saying the FCC should explicitly ban "paid prioritization" and reclassify ISPs so that they're regulated more like public utilities.
He also maintained that net neutrality rules should also apply fully to mobile devices
"The rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device," he said. "I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks."
FCC Neutral for Now
For its part, the FCC was officially noncommittal. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the President's position was "an important and welcome addition to the record of the Open Internet proceeding."
"As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President's submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding. We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act," Wheeler said.
The issue of classifying the Internet as an information service went to the Supreme Court in 2005. Reversing that decision would probably prompt a lengthy legal and political battle.
The FCC passed net neutrality rules in 2010, but was subsequently the target of a lawsuit by Verizon, which argued that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate such issues.
A large coalition of technology companies whose lifeblood depends on the Internet has taken a stand in favor of net neutrality, including Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter and Yahoo. Those companies have stopped short of specifying how that should happen, however.
Some tech companies do support classifying Internet service like a utility, as the president favors.
"We would stand to benefit from the tiered Internet," said Manav Mital, CEO of Palo Alto cloud application delivery provider Instart Logic. "But the profit margins we would see, however, would in no way justify the chokehold this would place on innovation."
Posted: 2014-11-10 @ 5:10pm PT
What Boehner, Ted Cruz and other conservative non-thinkers fail to comprehend is that a truly free market is one that is not controlled and dominated by big money and monopolies. Anyone who supports the interests of big business's freedom to take more than their fair share from the same pie everyone must eat from, knows nothing about the meaning of freedom or free markets. A truly free internet is one that has enough regulation to maintain that freedom without which it would soon be turned into just another product whose only real purpose becomes higher shareholder profits.