November 14, 2014
The newest advocate for net neutrality may not be someone you’d expect.
President Obama himself joined the net neutrality debate earlier this week, supporting net neutrality by calling for the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
According to the President, the FCC should achieve this by reclassifying broadband networks as telecom services and bringing them under the same regulations as phone networks. This includes encouraging restrictions against slowing or blocking websites, advocating for more transparency on the deals between content companies and Internet providers, and banning extra charges for faster service.*
Obama added that wireless networks should be covered by the same rules (see FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision May Also Affect Wireless Networks).
At the very least, President Obama’s statement puts him strongly on the side of net neutrality advocates, and thus firmly against large service providers like Verizon and Comcast.
Another group advocating against net neutrality (and thus for a “free market” Internet experience) is the newly-empowered Republican party in Congress.
Aside from publicly denouncing the largest carriers in the telecom industry, the most surprising aspect of Obama’s statement is the fact that the president is essentially suggesting how the FCC should claim the legal authority to achieve these moves.
Though the president’s opinion doesn’t carry any real weight, it certainly puts political pressure on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler – Obama’s statement comes closely on the heels of the FCC’s compromise (see FCC Offers New Solution for Net Neutrality) last week.
Essentially, the FCC’s solution would separate “back-end” connections between carriers and content providers from “retail” connections between carriers and consumers – allowing carriers to cut special deals with consumers, while the FCC would be able to easily prevent deals between carriers and content companies.
In addition, the telecom industry is reeling from this new opposition: Verizon issued a statement described by experts as a “veiled threat at a lawsuit,” questioning the “legal sustainability” of such a move.*
Meanwhile, the Wireless Association (CTIA), an industry trade group representing the international wireless telecom industry, said the regulations are antiquated and inappropriate.*
If the FCC ends up following Obama’s suggestion, Republicans in Congress will be powerless to stop it – for now, that is.
Experts say it “seems likely that another lawsuit would follow reclassification,” while Republicans may also start working to change the law that gives the FCC its power.*
According to Businessweek, Republicans plan to begin overhauling the 1934 Telecommunications Act, which would open up the issue over Internet rules to include the government’s approach to television and phone calls, too.
For the full text of President Obama’s statement regarding net neutrality, click here.
Net neutrality refers to the idea that online content and applications should be equally accessible, meaning that no websites or online services should be faster or slower as a result of special deals with internet service providers.
It’s been a hot topic for months now, especially once the American public realized the direct ramifications to its everyday internet usage. This summer alone, proponents of net neutrality voiced their complaints in the form of 1.2 million-plus comments on the FCC website demanding that the FCC protect net neutrality by banning special deals.
It basically boils down to this: should the FCC allow internet service providers to favor or block certain websites or online services, based on special deals with content companies?
* Brustein, Joshua. Obama Prods the FCC to Fight for Strong Net Neutrality, Businessweek. Bloomberg, L.P.