Consumer advocates urging the FCC to protect net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a Title II “common carrier” service have picked up a surprising new ally this morning: the President of the United States.
In a statement this morning, President Obama has unexpectedly jumped into the fray over net neutrality. His message sets out four bright-line rules that the FCC should is very clear: in order to protect net neutrality, the FCC should reclassify broadband.
The FCC is an independent agency, so requests from the chief executive are just that: requests. They carry no weight of law and the FCC is free to follow or ignore guidance from the White House as they see fit. However, realistically speaking, a direct statement from the White House has a hefty level of political impact, if not practical impact.
The White House asks the FCC to “answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” That means protecting four particular bright-line rules of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and increased transparency. And the best way to do that, Obama says, is with reclassification:
[T]he 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 under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is 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.
The incumbent ISPs, of course, strenuously object to Title II classification. Verizon in particular has threatened to sue the FCC again if the commission reclassifies any part of the broadband pipeline under that regulation. Their argument runs that Title II regulation is arcane and archaic, and will ruin their ability to do anything useful (i.e. make lots of money).
However, the White House statement seems to see that argument coming, and continues: “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.”
Although Obama has spoken favorably about net neutrality and nondiscrimination before, this marks the first time the White House has come out in favor of using Title II. The White House also endorses applying net neutrality regulations universally, to mobile as well as wired broadband.
In February, over 100,000 people signed a petition asking the President to request the FCC take the Title II approach. However, the White House did urge the FCC to take action but stopped short of actually asking commission chairman Tom Wheeler to consider reclassification.
The statement from the White House comes as Wheeler is said to be shopping around the FCC’s “hybrid” approach in Capitol Hill meetings with both members of the House and the Senate this week.
Net Neutrality: President Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Internet [The White House]