Obama urges FCC to protect net neutrality

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US president Barack Obama is urging the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service as a Title II communications service, with the goal of protecting net neutrality.

He also suggested caveats that would shield broadband services from some aspects of regulation for Title II services. Net neutrality is a principle under which all traffic on the internet is treated equally.

“The time has come for the FCC to recognise 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 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.

“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.”

The reclassification is opposed by US cable companies and ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, as it would allow the FCC greater regulatory control over broadband services.

“We are stunned the president would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the internet and call for extreme Title II regulation,” said Michael Powell, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

However, the Internet Association, which represents companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay and Amazon, welcomed the move. “Using Title II authority, along with the right set of enforceable rules, the president’s plan would establish the strong net neutrality protections that internet users require,” said the IA in a statement.

Obama also suggested that net neutrality rules might be applied to the issue of interconnection. Netflix has argued that protections are needed as ISPs either charge fees or ‘throttle’ companies that take up a high proportion of bandwidth.

The FCC is finalising a new set of proposals for internet regulation after the old rules were overturned by a series of legal challenges from cable and telecom companies. Chaired by Democrat Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s five-member board includes two Republicans who are expected to oppose Obama’s proposals.