In his strongest statement yet on net neutrality, President Barack Obama on Monday publicly called on the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband service as a utility.
"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,” Obama said in a statement. “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 had expressed support for net neutrality rules in the past, but hadn't explicitly called for the FCC to reclassify broadband. Reclassification is necessary before the FCC can impose common carrier regulations, according to many net neutrality proponents.
Obama also reiterated his opposition to “paid prioritization” deals, which involve providers charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery. “No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee,” he said. “That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”Obama's statement comes six months after the FCC formally said it would consider issuing regulations that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or degrading service, but allow them to create paid fast lanes. The FCC's prior open Internet rules, passed in 2010, were struck down by a federal appellate court in January.
Chairman Tom Wheeler initially said he hoped the agency would pass new regulations by the end of the year. But on Monday, Wheeler said the agency needs additional time to study the legal issues posed by reclassifying Internet service as a utility. “The more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do,” Wheeler said in a statement.
He added that reclassifying broadband service poses a host of policy and legal issues, including whether mobile services can be treated as Title II utilities.
Obama's statement regarding reclassification triggered strong reactions by net neutrality proponents as well as those who oppose regulations.
“What the President is asking the FCC to do -- to reclassify Internet service as a utility -- is simply common sense, and it would ensure that rich corporations couldn’t pay for an Internet fast lane,” net neutrality advocate Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said in a statement. “Net neutrality is a simple concept: all content on the Internet must travel at the same speed. It’s been the architecture of the Internet since it was created.”
On the anti-regulation side, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), tweeted his opposition to reclassification. “'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government,” he posted on the microblogging service.