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Obama calls for net neutrality, Internet service as a utility

In a surprise statement in favor of net neutrality, President Obama calls for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify Internet service as a utility.

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Via Whitehouse.gov

President Obama has officially come out in support of net neutrality, releasing a statement in which he calls for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify Internet service as a utility.

Obama says that the Internet is something that Americans have a basic right to. Therefore, ISPs are much like the utility companies that "connect you to the world" and thus "have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business."

This means no blocking, no throttling, increased transparency and no paid prioritization.

"The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do," the President’s statement read. "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."

The President added that the FCC should make net neutrality rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, given that a growing number of Americans use the Internet from their mobile devices.

The statement is in line with the efforts of net neutrality advocates, as it would see the enforcement of more robust regulations on how ISPs leverage the traffic that flows through their pipes. The FCC is currently working on new net neutrality rules, but the current proposal is contentious at best, as it would allow telecommunications and broadband providers to charge content providers for preferential treatment across their respective networks.

Americans turned out in droves in opposition to the proposal, prompting the FCC to delay its decision. It’s unclear how heavily Obama’s statement will weigh on the FCC’s actions going forward. The President himself acknowledges that the FCC is an independent agency making its own decisions. 

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler issued the following statement in response to the President:

The President’s statement is an important and welcome addition to the record of the Open Internet proceeding. Like the President, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth. We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation.

As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President’s submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding. We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act. 

I am grateful for the input of the President and look forward to continuing to receive input from all stakeholders, including the public, members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership of the Senate and House committees, and my fellow commissioners. 

Obama's full statement can be read here. You can watch the President explain his plan in the video below: