In a detailed statement published on Monday, Obama lent the backing of the White House to those calling for net neutrality, which has in recent years faced court challenges by telecommunications firms. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently working on a compromise that it hopes could resolve the issue.
“We cannot allow internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,“ Obama said in the statement, calling on the FCC to impose “the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality”.
He noted that the FCC’s efforts so far have foundered in court largely because in the US broadband services are classified not as telecommunications services, but as information providers, which doesn’t permit the same degree of regulation.
As a solution, therefore, he said broadband should be reclassified and given “common carrier” status, which would allow it to be regulated in a way similar to a telephone service.
“The time has come for the FCC to recognise that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do,” he wrote. “To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.”
The news caused shares of broadband providers, such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, to drop sharply in active trading. Verizon and AT&T said they would oppose reclassification in court.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (pictured), an Obama ally, said in a statement that he would take the president’s comments into consideration, but said approaches such as reclassification raised considerable legal questions.
“We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online,” Wheeler stated.
Politicians from the Republican Party, which recently gained control of Congress, came out strongly against Obama’s comments.
“‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in a Twitter message.
Supporters of net neutrality said Obama’s support was a significant step forward, with Holmes Wilson, co-director of the Fight for the Future advocacy group, saying that “Obama finally gets it”.
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