President Obama is no longer neutral on Net Neutrality.
In a YouTube video published this morning, President Obama reestablished his support for Net Neutrality, the principle that everyone should have equal access to the Internet.
"The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy—and our society— has ever known," Obama said. “There is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet.
The president's public support for Net Neutrality has been praised by activists, who have long argued that without strong regulatory guidelines Internet service providers (ISP) could charge different rates to create “fast” and “slow” lanes for web traffic. If the Internet is reclassified as a public utility, it would grant the FCC more control over how it's regulated. And that would be a nightmare scenario for ISPs.
Craig Aaron of Free Press, a nonprofit organization that wants to preserve Net Neutrality, says Obama's support "may have saved the Internet at the moment it was in greatest jeopardy."
Obama's position should put added pressure on Tom Wheeler, the largely vilified FCC chairman. Wheeler is reportedly contemplating a 'hybrid' plan for Internet regulation. Unsurprisingly, this "splitting the baby" approach did not make anyone happy.
Despite Obama's support for Net Neutrality, the president deferred to the authority of the FCC, which is an independent agency.
"One thing that worries us is the insistence that the FCC is an independent agency," said Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, one of the organizers behind the Call the FCC campaign that encouraged people to contact the agency. "At this point it should be unthinkable that Tom Wheeler would defy both the American public and the president, but we hope President Obama is prepared to demote him if he doesn’t move forward in good faith with Title II reclassification."
Not everyone is pleased by Obama's position. Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, an organization that advocates for a libertarian approach to the Internet, dismissed the president's declaration as "a cynical political ploy" that panders "to activists on the radical Left."
Not missing a chance to take a swing at the president or the Affordable Care Act, Senator Ted Cruz tweeted:
As for the ISPs, who have fought for a more deregulated web, it's likely that they'll challenge any attempt at heavy regulation. In fact, Comcast and Verizon have already sued the FCC, arguing that they're not public utilities and shouldn't be treated as such. The FCC lost both cases.
The president's statement comes days after nationwide protests —including demonstrations in front of the White House — were staged in favor of Net Neutrality.
The demonstrations don't appear to be ending anytime soon. Earlier this morning, protesters with PopularResistance.Org took the fight directly to Chairman Wheeler's home.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.