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Obama Renews Call for Open Internet

10 Nov, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The President reiterates the Federal Communications Commission should enforce net neutrality and that ISPs not throttle streaming content

President Obama Nov. 10 issued another strong message in favor of net neutrality guidelines that ensure an open Internet and protect against ISPs blocking or throttling third-party streaming content.

Obama said that following more than 4 million public comments received on the issue, he is calling upon the Federal Communications Commission to enact the “strongest possible” rules to protect net neutrality.

The FCC, under the direction of former cable lobbyist Tom Wheeler (an Obama appointee), is about to release new Internet guidelines, which could include the right by ISPs to charge for faster streaming.

Obama has steadfastly remained in opposition to the creation of a super broadband highway for well-heeled Internet services.

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known,” Obama said in a statement and video.

Net neutrality, which was derailed in January after a federal appeals court struck down provisions of the guidelines, attempts to maintain equal access to the Internet for services regardless of their size or financial prowess. Following the court’s decision, major ISPs began charging Netflix — the largest generator of broadband traffic during peak primetime hours — additional fees to ensure its subscribers receive the smoothest streaming.

Netflix has characterized the fees as an added tax, and has called upon the government to enact new guidelines.

The President believes net neutrality should fall under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which would classify ISPs as utilities. Major ISPs, including cable operators Comcast and Time Warner Cable, are not in favor of reclassification, which they argue applies to telecommunications and would subject them to heightened regulation and possible taxation, among other concerns.

Indeed, Obama believes the appeals court did not oppose net neutrality, but rather how it was approached legally. He is advocating that the FCC mandate “no blocking,” whereby an ISP can deny access to legally permissible content. Obama said ISPs should be able to “throttle” streaming, which can intentionally slow down streaming access.

He added that there should be increased transparency beyond the last mile of broadband connections into consumer homes. Finally, the President said there should be no “paid prioritization,” such as the recent peering agreements between Netflix and Comcast and Verizon.

“The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone. 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,” Obama said.

ISP Verizon said it invites regulatory insight into the peering agreements.

"We are hopeful that policy makers will recognize this fact and that the Internet will continue to be the engine of growth of the global economy," the telecom said in a statement last summer.

Meanwhile, Common Cause, a nonpartisan civil liberties group, applauded the President’s decision to encourage the FCC to write rules that ban paid prioritization and ISP censorship.

"The President wasn't kidding when he said he'd take a back seat to no one on net neutrality,” Michael Copps, a former FCC Commissioner now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s media and democracy reform initiative, said in a statement. “As someone who has been pushing for Title II since 2002, when the FCC wrongly classified broadband, I am thrilled. Now the FCC must show the same kind of leadership and courage." 

Netflix, which stands to gain the most with new Internet regulation, heralded Obama's support for net neutrality.

“President Obama agrees: consumers should pick winners and losers on the Internet, not broadband gatekeepers,” Netflix said on its Facebook page.



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