UNITED STATES, Nov 10 – Barack Obama called for “the strongest possible rules to protect” the open internet on Monday and came out against proposals championed by cable and telecoms companies to create fast lanes for the web. The president’s statement comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to publish new rules to regulate the internet after a series of legal defeats at the hands of telecoms and cable companies.
“An open internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known,” Obama said.
The president came out firmly against a proposal that would allow cable companies to create “fast lanes” for higher paying customers. Cable and telecoms companies have lobbied for fast lanes, arguing that companies like Netflix should pay more for the large amount of bandwidth they use. Opponents argue such a move would create a tiered internet with faster service for those who can pay, and end “net neutrality” – the principle that all traffic is equal on the web.
“Net neutrality has been built into the fabric of the internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. 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,“ wrote Obama. He said the FCC should impose “the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
The president’s move will place extraordinary pressure on the bipartisan FCC. Chairman Tom Wheeler is a Democrat, but the FCC’s board is split between Democrat and Republican members and the Republicans have shown clear opposition to imposing more regulation on internet service providers. After receiving more than 4m comments from the general public, the FCC had reportedly been discussing a “hybrid” solution that would have allowed tiered services but imposed stricter rules to protect customers. The proposal met with stiff opposition from net neutrality supporters, who now have the backing of Obama.