WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama has officially spoken in favor of net neutrality and strict regulations for Internet providers that would prevent them from blocking Internet content or charging companies an extra fee for faster access.
Protestors outside Comcast Center in Philadelphia in September.
Obama expressed his favor on Monday for the “strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” in a White House statement.
“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” the President stated in a video and statement issued by the White House. “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.”
Net neutrality would prevent Internet providers from restricting content. In turn, online companies, such as Netflix, would not have to charge users an additional fee.
The President’s recent statement has put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), specifically on its chairman, Tom Wheeler. Wheeler’s initial proposal called for stricter government regulation of the Internet, while allowing service providers to strike deals with certain sites and Internet companies.
The debate comes down to Internet accessibility and whether the Internet should be considered an easily accessible utility or a commodity.
There is a bipartisan division on the issue. Republicans have expressed opposition to net neutrality, while democrats have traditionally given their support.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz likened net neutrality to Obamacare. “The Internet should not operate at the speed of the government,” he recently stated in a tweet.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote to the FCC in September condemning the proposed end of net neutrality and the potential for Internet fast lanes.
Without net neutrality Internet providers would essentially develop slow and fast lanes for delivering information. Companies that paid additional fees would have their content delivered faster.
“Having the president stand up for Net neutrality is going to dramatically raise the profile of this issue,” US Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has specialized in telecommunications issues, told the Boston Globe.
Many of those speaking out against the potential new regulations are smaller Internet companies. Etsy is an online marketplace that allows artists to sell crafts directly from the home. “The Internet has allowed [sellers] to compete with big brands in the global marketplace, and we felt that was under threat,” Althea Erickson, the company’s public policy director, told The New York Times.
Larger companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Facebook, would also be threatened by the elimination of net neutrality, since its users would be primarily affected.
“Their users really, really care about this issue,” Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press, told The New York Times. “I hope they’d recognize that, as the smaller companies have recognized that. We’d welcome their support.”