By Heini Järvinen

In a speech on 10 November, US President Barack Obama made a strong statement calling for net neutrality. He urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules to prevent Internet access providers from blocking or slowing down content, and from charging service providers to let them use a “fast lane” to reach their clients.

Obama emphasised the importance of a free and open Internet, stating that its effects on Americans’ lives can be compared to phone service or electricity, and consequently broadband services should be regulated as any other public utility. Obama suggested that the provision of internet service should be placed under Title II regulation of the Telecommunications Act, which regulates how common carriers must conduct business across all forms of communication in order to act “in the public interest”. This re-classification is a long-standing demand of net neutrality proponents.

“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,” Obama said is his video statement. “If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to Obama’s call shortly after it had been published, in a previously scheduled meeting with the major Internet companies. He expressed his support to the principle of upholding “an open platform for free expression, innovation and economic growth”, but argued that the concerns of access providers have to be taken into consideration as well, and that the approach adopted should “withstand any legal challenges it may face”. He repeatedly highlighted the fact that the FCC is an independent agency, and makes its own decisions independently of the president’s proposals.

It still remains to be seen if the FCC will listen to Obama’s recommendations. However, they represent an important step towards real net neutrality protections globally. It is now crucial that Europe does not find itself left in the slow lane in the race for an adoption of urgently needed net neutrality rules.

Obama asks FCC to adopt tough net neutrality rules (10.11.2014)
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/technology/obama-net-neutrality-fcc.html?_r=0

EFF: The White House Gets It Right On Net Neutrality. Will the FCC?
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/11/white-house-gets-it-net-neutrality-will-fcc-0

FCC chair said to balk at Obama’s net neutrality plan (11.11.2014)
http://www.cnet.com/news/fcc-chair-said-to-weigh-deviation-from-obamas-net-neutrality-plan/

Pressure mounts on FCC chief over net neutrality rules (12.11.2014)
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/technology/pressure-mounts-on-fcc-head-over-open-internet-rules.html

The split between Obama and the FCC on net neutrality, in plain English (12.11.2014)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/11/12/the-split-between-obama-and-the-
fcc-on-net-neutrality-in-plain-english/

Questions and answers about Obama’s open Internet plan (13.11.2014)
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/11/13/net-neutrality-qa-after-obama-proposals/18986935/

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