President Barack Obama says that he wants broadband Internet service treated just like other utilities, such as land-line telephones and electricity.
Yesterday, Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission
to reclassify broadband under Title II of the federal Telecommunications Act. That would give broadband providers "common carrier" status, and would impose certain key regulations with the goal of establishing universal service.
In less cumbersome terms, it means that Internet service providers would have to treat all content the same, regardless of its source or destination. Many net neutrality advocates have called on the FCC to take this step.
"This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISP's 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 in a statement.
The FCC is developing new net neutrality rules and Obama's push for broadband Internet providers — including mobile data services — to be classified as common carriers is part of a broader statement on that process. Obama said he wants to see rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of content. He also acknowledged that the FCC is an independent agency and the decisions are its to make.
But opposition to paid prioritization is interesting and puts Obama directly at odds with the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules, which would allow for the practice. The idea, more commonly known as Internet fast lanes, would allow Internet providers to charge content providers higher rates for faster connections to their mutual subscribers. Lots of consumers hate the idea, as does the Internet tech start-up community.
Telecommunications companies are ticked at the president because he pushed for Internet providers to be classified as common carriers and because he came out against Internet fast lanes. Consider these remarks excerpted from a blog post
by Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless communications industry group:
"Imposing antiquated common carrier regulation, or Title II, on the vibrant mobile wireless ecosystem would be a gross overreaction that would ignore the bipartisan views of members of Congress and the FCC, would impose inappropriate regulation on a dynamic industry and would threaten mobile provider’s ability to invest and innovate, all to the detriment of consumers. CTIA strongly opposes such an approach.”
Or this excerpt from National Cable and Telecommunications Association President and CEO Michael Powell's statement on the president's statement
“We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and call for extreme Title II regulation. The cable industry strongly supports an open Internet, is building an open Internet, and strongly believes that over-regulating the fastest growing technology in our history will not advance the cause of Internet freedom. There is no dispute about the propriety of transparency rules and bans on discrimination and blocking. But this tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results."
But the people who support common carrier status for ISP's and who oppose internet fast lanes say that the president's remarks are about protecting consumers. Phones were important enough for the government to get involved and provide effective regulatory oversight. And the Internet isn't just the phone system of the 21st century — it's also the library, the job listings, the bookstore, the classroom, and much more.
Consumer groups support the presidents remarks. Here's what Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, the advocacy group affiliated with Consumer Reports, said in a statement
“We don’t want industry gatekeepers to pick winners and losers on the Internet. We’re pleased to hear the President come out strongly in favor of reclassifying broadband under Title II. We think that is the best path to ensuring consumers can continue to choose the sites and services they want. We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC to get the strongest possible rules for consumers.”