Democratic lawmakers, consumer rights groups and other net neutrality advocates are cheering the news that President Barack Obama publicly called on the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband service as a utility.
"When the leader of the free world says the Internet should remain free, that’s a game changer," longtime net neutrality supporter Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said this morning in a statement.
Digital rights organizations including Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the Center for Democracy & Technology likewise praised the president for explicitly urging the FCC to reclassify broadband. “Today the Obama Administration expanded its leadership to promote an open internet by supporting the strongest tools to prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic, and by also supporting the strongest tools to deter fast lanes and prioritized traffic on the public's most essential communications platform of the 21st century,” Public Knowledge President Gene Kimmelman stated.
Cable companies and telecoms, on the other hand, aren't happy with this latest development.
The industry lobbying group US Telecom Association called Obama's stance “baffling.”
"At a time when broadband providers are operating in conformance with the very open Internet principles that the president supports, it is baffling why he would risk continued broadband investment, deployment, economic growth and job creation by asking the FCC to reverse course on the very successful bipartisan policy that has now been in place for more than a decade," the group stated.
Verizon, which successfully challenged the FCC's previous net neutrality regulations, said today that classifying broadband as a utility “would be a radical reversal of course that would in and of itself threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation.”
The company, which obviously isn't shy about litigation, adds that reclassification “would likely not stand up in court.”
The irony, of course, is that if Verizon hadn't sued to invalidate the old 2010 net neutrality regulations, the FCC wouldn't now even be considering whether to reclassify broadband as a utility. Those former net neutrality rules prohibited wireline companies from blocking content and from engaging in unreasonable discrimination.
In January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the old regulations. The court ruled that the FCC couldn't require Verizon and other ISPs to follow common carrier rules because the agency hadn't classified broadband as a Title II utility service.
Many net neutrality supporters responded to that decision by asking the FCC to reclassify high-speed Web access as a Title II service.
Instead, Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new regulations that would ban ISPs from blocking content, but also would permit them to charge content companies extra fees for faster delivery -- a practice known as paid prioritization.
That plan proved extremely unpopular with net neutrality supporters and tech companies, which argued that paid fast lanes would harm startups and small businesses that couldn't afford to pay extra tolls.
A record-breaking 3.9 million people wrote to the FCC to express an opinion about the proposal, many of whom asked the agency to abandon its plan for paid fast lanes and instead reclassify broadband as a utility.
Today, for the first time, Obama explicitly joined in the call for reclassification.
“I am asking the Federal Communications Commission ... to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” he said in a statement. “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.”