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Obama's plan to save the internet draws bold reactions

New, 94 comments

He's got plenty of supporters, but the opposition's equally vocal

Spencer Platt

Today, President Obama took his strongest stance yet on the subject of net neutrality. Obama released a statement urging the FCC to reclassify broadband as a utility. In doing so, he answered the call of millions of people who've written the Commission and chairman Tom Wheeler in support of reclassification, which many view as the most sure fire way of keeping the internet open and shielded from the profit-driven interests of ISPs.

Obama's message was a huge boost for net neutrality advocates, but it's unclear how much impact it'll have in the long term; figuring out net neutrality is the FCC's job, and reclassification would require a GOP-controlled US Congress to play along. Even so, when the President of the United States speaks up, his words carry serious weight. We've collected some early reactions to Obama's plan, and more important voices are likely to chime in throughout the day. Much of the feedback is predictable and calculated, but we're already seeing some head-scratchers. And should the FCC decide to follow Obama's lead, major ISPs have made it clear they're prepared to sue and take this debate to court.

Emphasis in below quotations added by The Verge.

Government

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

The President’s statement is an important and welcome addition to the record of the Open Internet proceeding. Like the President, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth. We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation.

As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President’s submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding. We welcome comment on it and how it proposes to use Title II of the Communications Act.

In January, a federal court struck down rules that prevented Internet Service Providers from blocking and discriminating against online content. In May, the Commission sought comment on how to best reinstate these rules to protect consumers and innovators online while remaining within the parameters of the legal roadmap the court established. The goal was simple: to reach the outcomes sought by the 2010 rules. We sought comment on using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, as discussed by the court to protect what the court described as the "virtuous circle" of innovation that fosters broadband deployment and protects consumers.

The purpose of the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposal was to elicit comments. In the past several months, we’ve heard from millions of Americans from across the country. From the beginning I have pledged to finally bring to an end the years-long quest for rules that are upheld in court. In May we sought comment on both Section 706 and Title II and I promised that in this process all options would be on the table in order to identify the best legal approach to keeping the Internet open. That includes both the Section 706 option and the Title II reclassification. Recently, the Commission staff began exploring "hybrid" approaches, proposed by some members of Congress and leading advocates of net neutrality, which would combine the use of both Title II and Section 706.

The more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do. The reclassification and hybrid approaches before us raise substantive legal questions. We found we would need more time to examine these to ensure that whatever approach is taken, it can withstand any legal challenges it may face. For instance, whether in the context of a hybrid or reclassification approach, Title II brings with it policy issues that run the gamut from privacy to universal service to the ability of federal agencies to protect consumers, as well as legal issues ranging from the ability of Title II to cover mobile services to the concept of applying forbearance on services under Title II.

I am grateful for the input of the President and look forward to continuing to receive input from all stakeholders, including the public, members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership of the Senate and House committees, and my fellow commissioners. Ten years have passed since the Commission started down the road towards enforceable Open Internet rules. We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH):

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama administration continues to disregard the people’s will and push for more mandates on our economy. An open, vibrant Internet is essential to a growing economy, and net neutrality is a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship. Federal bureaucrats should not be in the business of regulating the Internet – not now, not ever.

In the new Congress, Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme to regulate the Internet, and we’ll work to encourage private-sector job creation, starting with many of the House-passed jobs bills that the outgoing Senate majority ignored.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Senator John Thune (R-SD):

The president’s call for the FCC to use Title II to create new net neutrality restrictions would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle our nation’s dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service. The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate.

Nancy Pelosi:

Broadband providers

Comcast:

Comcast fully embraces the open Internet principles that the President and the Chairman of the FCC have espoused -- transparency, no blocking, non-discrimination rules, and no "fast lanes", which is the way we operate our network today.  We continue to believe, however, that section 706 provides more than ample authority to impose those rules, as the DC Circuit made clear.

Comcast and cable companies (along with the telcos) have led the broadband revolution, being the first to roll out America’s fastest broadband speeds across the country.  As the White House itself acknowledged in its broadband report in 2013, this only happened because we were not subject to the intrusive regulatory regime designed for a different era.

To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper. This would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation, as today's immediate stock market reaction demonstrates.  And such a radical reversal of consistent contrary precedent should be taken up by the Congress.

The internet has not just appeared by accident or gift — it has been built by companies like ours investing and building networks and infrastructure. The policy the White House is encouraging would jeopardize this engine for job creation and investment as well as the innovation cycle that the Internet has generated.

Verizon:

Verizon supports the open Internet, and we continue to believe that the light-touch regulatory approach in place for the past two decades has been central to the Internet’s success.

Reclassification under Title II, which for the first time would apply 1930s-era utility regulation to the Internet, would be a radical reversal of course that would in and of itself threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation. That course will likely also face strong legal challenges and would likely not stand up in court. Moreover, this approach would be gratuitous.

As all major broadband providers and their trade groups have conceded, the FCC already has sufficient authority under Section 706 to adopt rules that address any practices that threaten harm to consumers or competition, including authority to prohibit ‘paid prioritization.’ For effective, enforceable, legally sustainable net neutrality rules, the Commission should look to Section 706."

AT&T:

Today’s announcement by the White House, if acted upon by the FCC, would be a mistake that will do tremendous harm to the Internet and to U.S. national interests. It is a complete reversal of a bipartisan policy that has been in place since the Clinton Administration—namely, to treat Internet access as an information service subject to light-touch regulation.  This classification of Internet service has been upheld by the Supreme Court and has enjoyed strong Congressional support for nearly a generation.  Now, with one statement, the White House is telling the FCC to ignore this precedent and to instead impose on the entire Internet—from end to end— onerous government regulation designed in the 1930s for a Bell phone monopoly that no longer exists, not for a 21st century technology.  This will have a negative impact not only on investment and innovation, but also on our economy overall.

For a generation, the Internet has been an American success story.  Light-touch regulation has encouraged levels of investment unprecedented by any industry and spawned incredible innovation.  Today’s action puts all of that at risk – and puts it at risk not to remedy any specific harm that has occurred.  Instead, this action is designed to deal with a hypothetical problem posed by certain political groups whose objective all along has been to bring about government control of the Internet.  The White House is proposing to put the Internet and our economy at risk as a result of such political pressures.

We feel the actions called for by the White House are inconsistent with decades of legal precedent as well as Congressional intent.  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.  If the FCC puts such rules in place, we would expect to participate in a legal challenge to such action.

USTelecom:

The president’s call for public utility regulation of the Internet, a shift that will redefine the Internet, insert the government deeply into its management and invite other countries to do the same, is contrary to the best interests of the nation and America’s technology future. At a time when broadband providers are operating in conformance with the very open Internet principles that the president supports, it is baffling why he would risk continued broadband investment, deployment, economic growth and job creation by asking the FCC to reverse course on the very successful bipartisan policy that has now been in place for more than a decade.

The court has indicated that the objectives the president seeks can be achieved under the light touch regulatory approach of Title I, and there is a broad consensus on the goals. Such a radical shift in the legal foundation for broadband Internet services will bring strong legal challenges from across the broadband industry. We hope the commissioners will be careful to consider the president’s proposal in the context of their statutory responsibility to act independently, and we look forward to continuing to work with them toward achieving a result that is consistent with both the president’s objectives and the law.

Technology / apps

Netflix:

Firefox:

Kickstarter:

Etsy:

Advocacy

Tim Wu:

Electronic Frontier Foundation:

This is an important moment in the fight for the open Internet. President Obama has chosen to stand with the us: the users, the innovators, the creators who depend on an open internet. But the fight isn't over yet: we still need to persuade the FCC to join him.

Common Cause:

The President wasn't kidding when he said he'd take a back seat to no one on net neutrality. Thank you, Mr. President. And thanks to the millions of Americans who helped make this happen. As someone who has been pushing for Title II since 2002, when the FCC wrongly classified broadband, I am thrilled. Now the FCC must show the same kind of leadership and courage.

Fight for the Future:

Thanks to the second largest online protest in history, nearly 4 million comments, White House & FCC phone lines ringing off the hook, and even nationwide street protests, President Obama finally gets it, and can say so.

He sees why net neutrality matters so much to the world’s future. He gets why Americans are furious at the prospect of cable companies controlling what we read, watch, and build online. He knows how important it is that smartphone users be treated equally. And he understands in policy terms that Title II reclassification–far from being a radical step–is simply a recognition of how essential the Internet has become, to all of us.

Broadband for America:

President Barack Obama's endorsement of 1930's era Title II classification would lead to unprecedented government interference in the Internet and would hurt consumers and innovation. Further, for the President to issue this directive is a threat to the independence of the FCC itself. By vastly expanding the regulatory bureaucracy over the Internet, the administration is turning its back on 20 years of bipartisan consensus that has allowed the Internet to flourish. The President's approach would threaten millions of jobs and a diverse array of stakeholders including, labor, civil-rights organization, and tech companies, who have long advocated for a far more restrained approach.

Further, the President's directive discredits US efforts to prevent countries like Russia and China from destroying the current international multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance and replacing it with government regulatory control. It is ironic that the President made his announcement while in China, which has long sought greater government control over the Internet and surely will be encouraged by the President's statement.

We urge FCC Chairman Wheeler to exercise his independent authority and reject this extreme proposal.