Today, President Obama laid out his plan to protect the free and open Internet. He noted that “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.”
Specifically, the President noted that “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. 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. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone – not just one or two companies.”
President Obama said he believed the FCC should create a new set of rules to protect net neutrality and ensure that neither cable companies or phone companies are able to act as gatekeepers, restricting what anyone can do or see online. He proposed “simple, common-sense steps” for the FCC to consider as they approach the net neutrality debate:
- No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, an ISP should not be permitted to block it.
- No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up other content based on the type of service or an 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. The FCC should make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization. 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. There should be an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
The internet as we know it in America is about to fundamentally change, and it’s because our politics are too broken to stop it.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission is about to issue new rules for internet service providers that will allow them to create “fast lanes” of service that will allow companies like Netflix and Amazon to deliver their content faster than competitors. That’s a first for American internet policy, and it’s strictly against the rules in other countries, particularly in Europe.
Allowing big companies to pay for prioritized access to consumers flies in the face of the internet’s egalitarian ideals, which allow anyone or any company free access to a vibrant market free of tolls or restrictions — allow service providers like Comcast and AT&T to start creating artificial barriers to entry, and you make it harder for the next generation of college kids to start the next Facebook or Google. As a whole, the various rules that protect these ideals are generally called net neutrality — they’re the rules that say your service provider has to treat all internet traffic equally, and shouldn’t be allowed to block, degrade, or enhance access to certain websites or services.
It was actually illegal for service providers to create fast lanes in the US until January, when an appeals court struck down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules after a lengthy court battle with Verizon. The 2010 rules were a big deal — President Obama even made the open internet a part of his 2008 campaign platform, saying “I’ll take a backseat to no one in my commitment to net neutrality.”