Net Neutrality Battle: Obama’s Bold Remarks Urging FCC ‘Strongest’ Protection Hands Win to Consumer Groups

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life” says the President

President Obama declared Monday that the FCC needs the “strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality” in bold statement of support for consumer groups. He called on the agency to act aggressively in drafting new Internet rules.

In a statement and video, Obama urged the FCC to go well beyond rules that Chairman Tom Wheeler has first proposed. Obama suggested the FCC adopt rules requiring net neutrality for mobile as well as wired Internet connections and banning Internet service providers from employing paid prioritization to give favored content providers a faster lane to consumers’ computers.

In the biggest win for consumer groups, Obama called on the agency to take a legal path to accomplishing the task that offers the greatest certainty of withstanding legal challenge, a path certain to enrage Republicans.

Obama said the FCC should decide that Internet broadband connections are “common carrier services” and can be regulated using the same Title II section of the laws the agency uses to regulate phone services.

Such a move would reverse the FCC’s earlier decision that broadband is instead an “information service” and comes in the face of warnings from Republican senators and congressmen about a reclassification. The Republicans suggested the agency needs to maintain a “light regulatory touch” to avoid hurting the Web’s growth.

A cable group on Monday said any such move would be a “tectonic shift in national policy” that “would create devastating results.”

The White House issued the statement Monday as the President was traveling in China.

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” said the statement.

“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted.  We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” said Obama.

“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 while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.

In the statement, Obama called the potential move “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.”

Obama also reiterated some of the concerns he expressed Oct. 9, during a stop in Santa Monica.

Obama said the FCC should ban paid prioritization where a favored content provider gets a faster path to consumers.

“Simply put: 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.  So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.”

He also said the FCC net neutrality action should prevent service providers from blocking or throttling the speed to Web sites.

“If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it.  That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business,” he said.

Wheeler is a statement called Obama’s state “an important and welcome addition to the record.”

“As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President’s submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding,” he said.

Wheeler said that like Obama, he too believes “that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth.

“We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also said that the FCC review of new rules has been slowed by the number of options for writing new rules being considered.

“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,” he said.

Consumer groups on Monday praised Obama’s statement while groups of Internet service providers expressed surprise.

“We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme Title II regulation,” said Michael Powell, president-CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. “This tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results.”