In mid-November 2014, the President spoke out unabashedly in favor of net neutrality. He called for bans on blocking or throttling online content and on paid prioritization that would allow large, rich online services such as Netflix to pay for preferential treatment (leaving smaller services in its wake). Articulating the gist of net neutrality, the President stated, “No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee.” Finally, the President pushed for reclassification of broadband as a common carrier, a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which would allow the FCC to regain the regulatory authority lost in 2002 by its own decision to remove broadband from the common carrier classification
This position ironically puts him at odds with his appointed Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler. Wheeler, who previously lobbied for the cable and telecommunications industry, prefers a more “nuanced” approach that would limit (not ban) service providers’ ability to charge Web companies to reach customers. The service providers, such as Comcast, AT&T and Time-Warner, might be happy with that approach but critics claim it will still result in an inevitable “slow lane” for web companies that either do not pay fees or pay lower fees to the providers.
Meanwhile, considerable comic relief is provided by Comcast, which states, “We agree with the President’s Principles on Net Neutrality.” Oh, sure you do. That’s why Comcast reached an agreement with Netflix in early 2014 to guarantee smooth streaming for a fee; because it’s such a champion of net neutrality. That’s why Comcast surreptitiously throttled a competitor in 2007 and has opposed net neutrality regulations in court; because Comcast deeply believes in net neutrality. That’s why Comcast wants to be regulated under §706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which a federal court has already interpreted as giving far less authority to the FCC for ISP regulation; because Comcast nobly supports net neutrality. The only reason Comcast abides by net neutrality now is that it must do so until 2018. The giant service provider speaks as though people do not know of Comcast’s corporate history.
The coming months and years should provide an interesting struggle, as the President and advocates for internet freedom push for pure net neutrality, Comcast and other providers push for less (or no) net neutrality and the FCC Chairman attempts to placate both sides of the debate.
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