Obama calls for strict FCC net neutrality regulations while in China, Cruz likens to Obamacare


NET NEUTRALITY: While on a trip to China to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinpin, right, U.S. President Obama called for strict FCC Internet regulations.

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama on Monday came out in full support of turning the Internet into a public utility in an announcement released while he was in China addressing business leaders at an economic summit.

In yet another episode of the decade-long net neutrality saga, Obama called for the Federal Communications Commission to create strict rules banning the blocking, slowing down, and paid prioritization of Internet traffic. He also called for increased transparency for how Internet service providers manage that traffic.

Obama campaigned on net neutrality in 2008, and his own proposal, which calls for the agency to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1943, mirrors proposals offered by congressional Democrats who have asked the FCC to “forebear,” not enforce, parts of the regulation they believe are unnecessary to offer the sorts of protections they are looking to give to Internet companies, startups, and consumers.

“If the FCC appropriately forbears from the Title II regulations that are not needed to implement the principles above — principles that most ISPs have followed for years — it will help ensure new rules are consistent with incentives for further investment in the infrastructure of the Internet,” said Obama in his announcement.

Whereas the FCC’s five commissioners previously were not expected to come to a decision over regulating the nation’s ISPs until December, the a decision is now reportedly anticipated for early 2015.

Progressive and free-market advocates — aligned with content providers and start-ups, and ISPs, respectively — balked at the FCC’s ‘hybrid’ proposal under consideration, which would have the agency oversee deals between ISPs and content providers.

NOT A GOOD DEAL: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, likens Obama’s Internet policy to the Affordable Care Act.

Obama’s announcement, however, predictably galvanized supporters and irritated detractors.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took to Twitter to denounce net neutrality as the “Obamacare for the Internet,” saying “the Internet should not operate at the speed of the government.”

Washington, D.C.-based think tank New America Foundation, whose board of directors is headed by Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, applauded Obama’s effort.

“President Obama is right — the best way to protect the open Internet is with strong rules and with FCC authority to enforce them under Title II of the Telecommunications Act,” Alan Davidson, vice president of New America and director of the Open Technology Institute, said in a statement.

Verizon called the approach “gratuitous,” stating that the FCC has the authority it needs to regulate ISPs. Both AT&T and Verizon doubled down on promises for legal action should the agency choose to go the route Obama championed.

“Moreover, if the government were going to make such a momentous decision as regulating the entire Internet like a public utility, that decision is more properly made by the Congress and not by unelected regulators without any public record to support the change in regulation,” Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, said in a statement.

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson