As net neutrality boils over, Obama calls for much tighter regulation of Internet access
If you care about the Internet and don’t care to see it co-opted and controlled by gatekeepers like Bell and Rogers, President Obama is your man. Yesterday he made a speech from the White House that has electrified the nation (theirs, not ours). He has called not merely for proactive regulation from the FCC to protect the open Internet. He has explicitly called on the agency to invoke Title II, that part of the Communications Act of 1934 intended to regulate common carriers like phone companies. Obama wants the regulator to treat the Internet like what it has become: a utility-like lifeline, not just an add-on to cable-TV service.
I intend to post more comments on net neutrality shortly, and especially on why our regulator, the CRTC, is fiddling over the fate of broadcast television with few signs it’s prepared to address the much more important problems of broadband availability, high prices, slow speeds and unaccountable service. To say nothing of the CRTC’s political masters. Harper may have found his inner consumer advocate in the runup to the 2015 general election. But he’s an opportunist who cherry-picks consumer issues like pick-and-pay, not a fundamentalist advocate for the open Internet.
For now, enjoy the thrill of hearing the leader of the free world weigh in on why the open Internet needs government action to protect it from the marauding interests of the incumbent telcos and cablecos (“marauding” may be my gloss). The statement comes in three slices: the setup, then the statement and a link to the video. First, the setup on the White House website:
“MORE than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.
“That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.
“And as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers new rules for how to safeguard competition and user choice, we cannot take that principle of net neutrality for granted. Ensuring a free and open Internet is the only way we can preserve the Internet’s power to connect our world. That’s why the President has laid out a plan to do it, and is asking the FCC to implement it.”
Next, Obama’s bullet points on what the FCC needs to do and why (an excerpt from the statement)…
“The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone. I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:
- 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. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
- No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
- Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization. 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.
“If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.”
One editorial comment: it’s a great relief to see that the President’s aides put paid prioritization at the bottom of his to-do list above. Blocking, throttling and transparency are live issues, today, in both the US and Canada, and need urgent regulatory attention. As I suggested in a post back in July, paid prioritization is still largely a meme that got spewed out of the shouting matches in Washington this year. Let’s worry about big shortfalls in actual bandwidth for millions of people before we worry about Google coming to us in a “fast lane.”
And finally the movie, which runs just under 2 min…