President Obama pushes FCC to classify Internet as public utility, protect net neutrality
In a move likely to see support from Internet-based content providers such as Apple, Netflix, and others, President Barack Obama on Monday publicly called on the Federal Communications Commission to take the strongest measures possible in protecting net neutrality.
Obama's plan calls on the FCC to reclassify broadband services under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, essentially classifying Internet connections as a basic utility like water or electricity. Doing so would prevent Internet service providers from deciding how customers' connections are used.
Advocates have called on the U.S. government and others to implement laws preventing ISPs from creating a so-called "tiered" Internet.
Observers have expressed concern that Internet providers could begin charging users to access certain websites, or favoring one online service over another with faster connection speeds.
For example, if an ISP were to cut a deal with an online video service, it could offer faster access to the favored service than content from Apple's iTunes. Or, in a more extreme example, the ISP could block iTunes altogether, and charge users more for the ability to access it.
"Whether you use a computer, phone or tablet, Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a website," Obama said. "Cable companies can't decide which online stores you can shop at, or which streaming services you can use, and they can't let any company pay for priority over its competitors."
The Obama administration is pushing what it calls four "commonsense steps" as the basis for its net neutrality initiative:
- No blocking: ISPs cannot be permitted to block access to legal content.
- No throttling: ISPs cannot intentionally slow down some content or speed up others.
- Increased transparency: Ensure that some sites are not getting special treatment in places other than the "last mile" of connection between ISPs and consumers. If necessary, the FCC could apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization: Prevent ISPs from cutting deals with content providers for faster access. Obama has asked the FCC to explicitly ban any such restrictions.
The FCC is an independent organization that must come to its own decision on the matter. But urging from Obama, as well as overwhelming public support for maintaining net neutrality, will likely make the issue a higher priority for the commission.
"For most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication, and everyday life," Obama said.
While Apple has been in support of net neutrality, its carrier partners unsurprisingly fall on the other side of the issue. Verizon Wireless was criticized in August by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler after the wireless provider revealed plans for a data throttling program and called it a "widely accepted" practice.