In a video released on Monday, President Barack Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission "to do everything they can to protect net neutrality for everyone" and keep the internet free and open, noting that his administration is dedicated to making that happen.
Obama is launching an initiative that seeks to ban companies from paying broadband providers for faster internet access for customers. It would also prevent providers from restricting access to certain online retailers in favor of partners or companies that pay for the favor.
"We cannot allow internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," Obama said in an accompanying statement. "That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality."
The president's plan to protect net neutrality involves asking the FCC to reclassify internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which was passed in 1996 to facilitate competition in the communications business. If internet service is reclassified under Title II it will be treated as a utility, like cable and telephone service.
The FCC is an independent body and isn't required to take direction from the president, as Obama noted in his address, but the net neutrality debate has been heating up and the commission is expected to rule on the matter soon.
Obama called for a four-pronged approach to net neutrality that would require increased transparency on the operation of ISPs as well as prohibit the blocking of legal websites, the intentional slowing-down of particular traffic, and paying to prioritize websites.
"No service should be stuck in a 'slow lane' because it does not pay a fee," Obama said. "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."
A policy of net neutrality would allow the internet to run much as it has throughout its existence. Recent deals, like the one struck between Comcast and Netflix to provide faster service to customers of the streaming video service, have ramped up pressure on the FCC to rule on neutrality. Netflix — which has been campaigning along with other major internet companies on behalf of net neutrality — recently complained that Comcast had congested its traffic in order to extract payment from the video distributor.
Meanwhile, Republic Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took to Twitter to voice his opposition of Obama's initiative, signaling that net neutrality has already become a partisan issue.
" 'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government," Cruz wrote.
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Photo via Flickr