Obama Bangs Drum for Net Neutrality

President Obama on Monday leaped into the controversy surrounding Net neutrality, calling on the United States Federal Communications Commission to ensure and protect that neutrality.

“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,” he said. “The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe.”

Obama’s statement drew strong responses from advocates of both sides of the issue, as well as from the FCC.

“I am grateful for the input of the President and look forward to continuing to receive input from all stakeholders, including the public, members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership of the Senate and House committees, and my fellow commissioners,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

However, “we must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online,” he added.

What the White House Wants

The White House wants the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, while refraining from regulating rates or imposing provisions less relevant to broadband services.

It also wants the FCC to ensure no blocking. ISPs should not be permitted to block consumers’ access to a website or service if the content is legal.

Further, there should be no throttling — ISPs should not be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up other content based on the type of service or their preferences.

The president called for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that would have a similar effect.

He also asked for increased transparency. The White House wants the FCC to enforce transparency about last-mile connections and, if necessary, apply Net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between ISPs and the rest of the Internet.

The no-throttling provision will strike a chord with Netflix, which suffered slowdowns in delivery of its streaming services over Verizon’s and Comcast’s networks until it agreed to pay higher fees.

Broadband providers may not be too pleased with the suggested ban on paid prioritization — and neither will FCC chairman Wheeler, who suggested this approach recently. The idea drew a firestorm of protest from Net neutrality proponents.

Cheers, Jeers and Fears

Net neutrality advocates such as Common Cause and ColorofChange expressed support for the White House’s statement.

However, implementing Title II rules “would set the industry back decades, and threaten the private sector investment that is critically needed to ensure that the network can meet surging demand,” warned Telecommunications Industry Association President Scott Belcher.

Any approach involving Title II “will undoubtedly invite court challenges and will involve a complex forbearance process, also open to court challenges and FCC delays,” said Doug Brake, telecom policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

The FCC’s power under section 706 “was clearly outlined in the Verizon decision, and I firmly believe we can achieve President Obama’s high-level goals with a narrower rule that will be faster to implement,” Brake told the E-Commerce Times.

The Impact of the White House’s Call

The president’s statement “is a pronouncement that sounds happy and is for Net neutrality, but is real short of details,” said Mike Jude, program manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“It introduces a huge amount of uncertainty into the market,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The real impact of the White House’s call “is substantively zero,” Jude opined, because “there’s no way in the world that could be imposed through executive action, and Congress won’t pass it either. [The president] basically made a wish upon a star.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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