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Obama pans internet fast lanes, as calls increase to treat broadband as “public utility”

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President Obama waded back into the net neutrality debate on Thursday while speaking at a tech event in Los Angeles.

“We expect whatever final rules emerge to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of internet,” said the President at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, repeating a position he took in August against the FCC’s proposal for so-called “fast lanes” for the internet, which would allow certain websites to pay ISP’s to receive preferential treatment.

Obama added that the FCC, which is in the process of preparing new rules for the internet, is an independent agency that has the power to make its own decision, but also said that the White House has been clear about what it wants chairman Tom Wheeler to do.

The President was an ardent supporter of net neutrality — the idea that all ISP’s should not be able to favor one type of internet traffic over another — at the time of his election, and appears to still hold that position.

“I think it is what has unleashed the power of the internet, and you don’t want to lose that or clog the pipes,” he saidin LA.

Despite the President’s remarks, and what seems to be overwhelming public support for net neutrality, most Washington insiders doubt that the FCC will actually impose it.

The agency is currently in a difficult position since the only way for it to enforce net neutrality is through a legal provision known as “Title II,” which would reclassify broadband providers as public utilities. The move to use Title II has gained traction in recent weeks, as senior politicians like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca) have floated “hybrid” proposals that suggest how the FCC could use Title II as one part of its final set of rules, which are likely to appear after the midterm elections.

The cable industry, however, has signaled it will make Wheeler’s life miserable if he attempts to go the Title II route. Meanwhile, as ProPublica reports, the industry also appears to be funding a grassroots campaign on city streets to channel opposition to a net neutrality law.

While the White House appears to be providing Wheeler with some political cover, the Chairman still faces an uphill battle since the cable industry wields far more money and lobbying clout than the fast lane opponents.

10 Responses to “Obama pans internet fast lanes, as calls increase to treat broadband as “public utility””

  1. Niki Tim Bowden

    I remember when shoes were on other feet. Netflix was itself guilty of stifling the stream when they had to pay the freight. They were caught slowing the mailing of DVDs when they had to mail them to customers back in the day. The expense was $1.6 million per diem, if I remember rightly, and they sought to throttle the expense. Nowadays, when someone else pays the fee, they’re for full gorging all the time. It’s business, as Tom Hagen liked to say.

    • UncleBob Martin

      “When someone else pays the fee” — what fee are you referring to? There is no fee, unless you count the monies that bandwidth owners forego when they are forbidden from putting tollbooths on the paths that data travels.

  2. notonederptogive

    This is rather serious for USA internet, though I’m not sure what that means for outside countries wanting to access US servers. With an FCC chairman all for this (who used to lobby against net neutrality), and now Obama cheering for it, it only means one thing: money.

    Here is an article that sums up quite nicely what this could mean for your internet:

    Imagine having to buy a “fast lane” for every service you like. You want to watch netflix fast and in high quality, there is a “Netflix Fast lane” for only $49.95. How about another website you want to visit, stream from, download etc. — it could also mean letting the ISPs/Telcos understand your browsing and usage habits and then charging you for it!

  3. But, can’t every content provider obtain a “fast lane” simply by hosting their content on a faster connection? Why is this okay, but paying an ISP directly is not? The end result is the same: content providers with more money to spend can get better access to consumers. This has always been true. E.g., YouTube got started because the founders had enough cash to blow on a “fast lane” that was fast enough to deliver video. At least paying the ISP’s directly gives you the assurance that the money will go to build the infrastructure needed to actually deliver the content, rather than into the pockets of a middle man.

  4. Thanks Jeff.

    I’m not surprised at all at the cable industry government lobbying efforts to the detriment of citizens. Comcast has to preserve it’s 140B monopoly. What I am surprised at the insidious organization of their PR effort. The paid shill’s who have no shame, posing as average readers on Gigagom, commenting in support of cable industry astounds me. Boo

  5. Steve King

    Treating broadband as public utility makes little sense but then again it seems that reasoning is not always important when it comes to Gov taking more control. If a broadband provider provides priority access to a service (e.g. Netflix) it is to ensure a QoS to benefit those consumers. The ultimate success/failure plays out in the market without Gov intervention. See:

    • Bobby James

      That was misleading Only two out of the ten reasons you linked could be considered legitimate arguments against broadband as utility given the current situation and even then more investigation would be required to make those legitimate. The rest were lobbyist rhetoric.

    • Chris Canizorro

      The majority of the points made in that article exclude telephone lines in their explanation because including that public utility would make those points fall apart. They only include common carriage telephone lines on their last point to give the illusion of a fair look as to why it shouldn’t be a utility. These points are untrue as well. There is no choice or competition in the majority of the US for home broadband service. The private investments are coming from the few big companies that are not innovating and not actually creating a broadband delivery system that is on par with the rest of the developed world. None of the reasons in that article hold water if you just do some basic searching on the subject. And QoS is not something that should be used as a tool to force customers to pay more than they already are. QoS should be expected in what we are paying now. Success/failure only plays out in the market if the regulations allow for a fair fight, which they don’t right now and why the government does need to step in. Here is a counter point to check out.

  6. Zach_Cats

    Can you please stop equating Title II with “treating the Internet like a public utility.” This is wrong on many levels. First, its the same legal framework that currently applies to cellular voice services, business broadband services, and rural broadband. Those aren’t utilities, and neither would broadband access networks become utilities if placed back under the basic common carriage duties to not unreasonably discriminate. Second, this is not about “the Internet,” which includes cloud companies, websites like this one, and the hundreds of millions of end points. It’s not even about the backbone. It is about the non-discriminatory obligations of the providers of last mile access network carriers.

    If the proper language is used, perhaps some of the scare tactics NCTA and Comcast and AT&T and their front groups all use won’t work.