Obama Calls For Net Neutrality Rules


President Barack Obama has given his clearest backing yet to net neutrality principles. He’s urged the Federal Communications Commission to not just tighten its rules, but make a key change to its rulemaking process.

The White House has released both a written and video statement from Obama commenting on the ongoing call for public feedback by the FCC. He asks the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

Obama also calls for what he describes as “bright-line rules” to implement “common-sense steps” to protect net neutrality including.

  • No blocking. (“If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it”);
  • no throtting.;
  • increased transparency, including making public details of connections between an ISP and the rest of the Internet (a clear reference to arguments about exactly how and why some Netflix traffic has been slowed down); and
  • “an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.”

Of course, these points are generally in line with what the FCC has previously indicated it would like to achieve. The problem is that previous court rulings have established it doesn’t have the power to make all of these rules because the Internet is officially classified as an information service rather than a common carrier communication service in the same way as phone lines.

Obama has now explicitly requested that the FCC formally reclassify consumer broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. He says this reclassification should include an exemption so that the FCC doesn’t acquire the right to regulate prices.

The president’s request doesn’t carry any legal force, but it could be the political motivation needed for the FCC to go ahead with reclassification. The problem is that lawyers are divided on whether the FCC actually has the power to reclassify a service, so such a move would inevitably prompt a lengthy legal battle. Indeed, Verizon has already threatened legal challenges.

It’s also possible that Congress could pass a law that explicitly allowed or forbade reclassification, though the current party split and presidential veto makes that unlikely for the next two years at least.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has welcomed Obama’s contribution to the debate, but warned that whatever course the commission decides on must be carefully chosen to stand up to legal scrutiny.