Obama urges FCC to regulate Internet providers like public utilities

November 10, 2014, 4:12 PM UTC
US President Barack Obama pauses while s
US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials during their annual conference at the Walt Disney World Resort June 22, 2012 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Obama spoke about immigration reform, the economy and the upcoming 2012 US Presidential Election. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)
Photograph by Brendan Smialowski — Getty Images

President Barack Obama has made it clear that he thinks Internet providers should be regulated like phone companies.

In a statement released by the White House on Monday, the president called for the Federal Communications Commission to create the “strongest possible rules” to enforce net neutrality and maintain an open Internet. Obama said he wants the FCC to reclassify broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act so that they can be regulated more like a public utility. “In plain English, I’m asking [the FCC] to recognize that, for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life,” the president said in a statement.

The argument over net neutrality heated up this year after a federal appeals court struck down FCC rules that prohibited Internet service providers (ISPs) from creating “fast lanes” for certain content providers that pay for faster, smoother delivery of their content. One example of this practice comes from Netflix (NFLX), which has said it begrudgingly entered into pacts with ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon to ensure faster streaming speeds for its customers despite CEO Reed Hastings maintaining his support for open Internet rules. (Netflix joined several other tech companies, including Reddit and Vimeo, for an Internet Slowdown Day in September to protest the so-called fast lanes.)

Obama said on Monday that he wants “an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.” The president also wants the FCC to make sure that broadband providers can not block or slow down Internet users’ access to certain content. Obama’s statement notes that the Internet has always been “organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom” and that, eliminating net neutrality “could end the Internet as we know it.”

The FCC, which is an independent agency that operates outside of the president’s authority, has been considering new rules requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally that would replace the regulations struck down in court earlier this year after Verizon challenged those previous rules. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler submitted a proposal earlier this year for regulating ISPs, but opponents claimed the proposal left open the door for paid prioritization. A period for public comments on the proposal led to the FCC receiving a record of roughly 4 million comments, mostly from people calling for rules to protect an open Internet.

“There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no toll roads on the Information Superhighway,” the president said on Monday. He added that his proposed rules should also apply to mobile broadband service, because so many people today access the Internet on mobile devices.

Stock prices for Internet providers Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Comcast (CMCSA) both dipped in the wake of Obama’s statement on Monday, which comes just over a month after the president voiced his support for net neutrality at a tech-themed town hall in California.