In a surprise move on Monday, President Obama issued a statement from the White House “explicitly asking” for new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that will preserve net neutrality and ban paid prioritization on the Internet. Specifically, Obama has called for any new rules not to block websites, slow down Internet traffic, or allow certain websites to pay for faster delivery of their content. Many believe this would result in “high speed lanes,” where bigger corporations would quickly out pace small businesses and private entities. Consumer advocacy groups have already voiced their support for stronger regulations and the reclassification of broadband as a utility similar to telephones and electricity.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has the tricky task of considering new Internet service regulations after courts struck down previous rules. In 2005, Courts ruled that the FCC possessed the authority to decide what classification Internet would have in relation to other telecommunications. At that time, the FCC chose not to reclassify the Internet under the stricter terms of telecommunications, instead leaving it classified as less-regulated “information.”
In 2010 and 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against the FCC’s efforts to reclassify the Internet and enforce telecommunications legislation. AT&T won their case against the FCC’s initiatives to protect Americans from Internet service providers (ISPs) hiking prices for comparable service. Not completely without alternatives, Congress ruled that the FCC can practice forbearance, or arbitrarily choosing which rules to apply in different situations. President Obama agreed Internet should not be as highly-regulated as telephone and electricity services.
Telecom lobbyists have already vowed to take the battle against the FCC and President Obama to the courts and Congress. Mark Cooper with the Consumer Federation of America believes ISPs will act quickly to first appeal the decision and then request a stay of the decision. In all previous cases regarding the Internet’s reclassification under Title two of the Communications Act, courts have ruled in favor of the telecommunications industry. Others have said they would agree to any “legally sustainable option” that does not include excessive governmental regulation.
Obama’s recommendation included an assertion that the new rules should not regulate the prices ISPs charge for their services. President Obama believes we now live in an era in which broadband and internet service have “the same importance” and “the same obligations” that telephone and electricity services provide. The president believes having reliable, affordable access to the Internet is a vital service that should be available to all Americans. Since the decision by the courts early this year, more than 3.7 million people have written letters to the FCC demanding the Internet remain open, possibly leading to the President’s calls for net neutrality’s preservation.
In a blog posted today, Comcast, the largest ISP in the U.S., agreed with parts of President Obama’s call for the FCC to act on preserving net neutrality on the Internet. Comcast claims they already practice net neutrality voluntarily and have no plans to create fast lanes for those willing to pay more. While Comcast does conform to the major features of net neutrality, this decision came as part of an agreement with NBC Universal, rather than an atypical allegiance to consumer protection. Additionally, Comcast has an agreement with Netflix that allows the streaming content to be delivered to customers quickly. Under the current definition of net neutrality, Comcast is already in violation. Many suspect that the battle between President Obama, the FCC, and ISPs will very likely be headed to the courts. Others have suggested the matter be settled by legislation from Congress.
By Didi Anofienem