President Barack Obama on Monday called on the Federal Communications Commission to classify the Internet as a Type II utility and to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
This isn’t the first time Obama has called for reinforcement of the “open Internet,” but his push for the specific utility classification comes at a key time when the FCC is proposing rule changes that would allow Internet providers to offer “fast lanes” to companies who would want to pay for speedy delivery of their products.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said mandating “net neutrality” would be like “Obamacare for the Internet.”
On Facebook, Cruz called net neutrality “the biggest regulatory threat to the Internet.”
“[Net neutrality] puts the government in charge of determining Internet pricing, terms of service, and what types of products and services can be delivered, leading to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers,” Cruz said.
Most net neutrality advocates, such as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), say the latest proposed rules by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler are really about giving wealthy companies an edge.
“What he’s really talking about is creating a fast lane where people can pay to have their content treated unequally,” Franken told Time. “That’s not net neutrality. That’s pay for play. That’s antithetical to net neutrality.”
In an attempt to get ahead of the FCC’s decision, the White House released its list of “simple, common-sense” rules for Internet reclassification:
- No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
- No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
- Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
Internet providers are opposed regulations that would remove their ability to offer various prices or rates to consumers or customers, essentially arguing that it would turn their broadband infrastructure into mere government-controlled transmission tubes. Cruz took aim at the FCC in May, saying that Congress, not “an unelected commission,” should take the lead on modernizing telecommunications laws.
“A five-member panel at the FCC should not be dictating how Internet services will be provided to millions of Americans,” Cruz said. “More than $1 trillion has already been invested in broadband infrastructure, which has led to an explosion of new content, applications, and Internet accessibility … The FCC should not endanger future investments by stifling growth in the online sector, which remains a much-needed bright spot in our struggling economy.”
But Obama said the FCC’s decision, once made, should stand.
“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.
Republicans and Democrats alike have kept a close eye on the FCC’s potential decision since May, when the commission launched a rulemaking, seeking input from the public “on how best to protect and promote an open Internet.” The call has drawn almost four million public comments.
According to the Verge, FCC chair Tom Wheeler has said that he isn’t entirely opposed to Title II Internet classification, but that it would only be considered if their tweaking of the current rules won’t work first.