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Obama Supports Net Neutrality, Urges FCC to Reclassify Broadband

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 11, 2014 11:10 AM

In case you missed it, President Barack Obama has issued a statement (and accompanying video!) outlining his hope for an "open Internet" and actually using the words "net neutrality" several times.

The statement is notable in that there's no hedging and no weasel language: It's a hortatory policy statement calling on the FCC not only to implement the "net neutrality" that its advocates -- and not its opponents -- have sought, but to go further and "reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act." (There should be a [sic] after this; he really means the Communications Act of 1934.)

Is This a Big Deal?

It's a big deal. President Obama's policy statement urges, among other things, the implementation of net neutrality without the creation of a "slow lane" for highly demanded traffic. It also advocates against throttling certain types of content (ahem, Comcast, regarding, cough, Netflix).

This statement stands in stark contrast to the ISPs' statements, which have outwardly been "we totally support net neutrality," just before whispering, "but on our terms." These terms have included specifically reserving the power to create slow lanes for types of content -- or even providers of content -- determined at the ISP's whim.

Obama's statement also advocates an a la carte application of Title II of the Communications Act that exempts them "from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services." Defining ISPs as common carriers under Title II would explicitly prohibit them from "unjust or unreasonable" discrimination in their traffic of the type they have been lobbying hard to be able to do, succeeding most recently in January in getting the FCC's net neutrality rules overturned.

The advocacy of Title II as the regulatory mechanism is also counter to what the ISPs themselves, and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler (a former telecom industry lobbyist), want. They favor using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which exhorts and encourages the FCC to use its power to "promote competition" -- which is what ISPs argue their content-discriminating version of net neutrality will do.

The Blowback

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, apparently using his party's fun Presidential Criticism Mad-Lib generator, called his proposal "Obamacare for the Internet" in a tweet yesterday. (Cruz, a vocal opponent of net neutrality, introduced a bill earlier this year that would strip the FCC of even its Section 706 regulatory authority.) Cruz isn't the only GOP lawmaker who favors letting the free market work its magic hands; Sen. Rand Paul also thinks that "net neutrality" means jack-booted thugs reaching through the computer screen to censor you -- probably for being a Randian superhero.

Wheeler also issued a response to Obama, saying, more or less, "Thanks for the input, but we're working on it. Are we working on it sloooowly? You bet, but we're the experts." Currently, the FCC's plan doesn't explicitly prohibit "slow" lanes.

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