Barack Obama speaks in Cairo, Egypt in 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Obama on net neutrality: 'leave it open'

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In a rare public comment on net neutrality, Barack Obama said his administration was opposed to paid prioritization, otherwise known as fast lanes. While he had spoken strongly about this issue before becoming President, he has been quite quiet about it since.

Speaking at a summit for African leaders in Washington, D.C., Obama gave his clearest opinion to date on the subject. His comments in full, as transcribed by The Washington Post:

One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That’s the big controversy here. So you have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more and also charge more for spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster. I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed.

While he does not use the industry and political jargon that proponents might be familiar with, he appears to be making a position statement against any sort of “fast lane.” Fast lanes, or paid prioritization, have come to define proposals that would make it legal for Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge fees to web services in exchange for faster download/upload speeds to customers.

Though ISPs argue that this is reasonable way to fund service-specific infrastructure improvements, the online services industry has spoken out emphatically and almost unanimously against any form of paid prioritization.

Some of the biggest names in tech co-wrote a letter calling the possibility of legalizing fast lanes poses “a grave threat to the Internet.” More recently, Major League Baseball joined a chorus of over a million others in condemning the FCC’s proposal to legalize the practice.

After the longstanding rules enforcing some of the most basic principles of net neutrality was ruled unconstitutional based on a technicality, the FCC has scrambled to put new regulations into place. The legal measure to give the FCC authority to impose net neutrality restrictions on ISPs, which is known as “reclassification,” is perceived to be a move that will be vehemently opposed by ISPs.

Some of the biggest names in tech co-wrote a letter calling the possibility of legalizing fast lanes poses “a grave threat to the Internet.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated that he’d prefer a measure that best splits the difference between a rigid conception of an open Internet and the interests of the largest ISPs, like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon.

Obama’s comments would seem to go against the current iteration of the FCC’s rule proposal, which does legalize “commercially reasonable” prioritization agreements. However, he does leave semantic room for fast lane agreements that cause services to pay for equal speed, rather than extra speed.

Time will tell as to the true meaning of his comments. The important thing to remember is this: the FCC is part of his administration. Obama has control over this situation.

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Tags: Barack Obama FCC Internet Net Neutrality Technology

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