President Obama ‘Expects’ Real Net Neutrality Protections—But Will Chairman Wheeler Deliver?

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President Obama ‘Expects’ Real Net Neutrality Protections—But Will Chairman Wheeler Deliver?

On Thursday, President Obama made a clear and unmistakable call for real Net Neutrality. Now it’s time for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to step up.

President Barack Obama expressed his support of net neutrality on Friday. (Photo: Barack Obama/flickr/cc)

During a question-and-answer session in Santa Monica, Calif., Obama reiterated his strong support for Net Neutrality and his opposition to the sort of pay-for-priority plan Wheeler has proposed.

“I am unequivocally committed to Net Neutrality,” Obama said to applause from the audience. “It is what has unleashed the power of the Internet, and we don’t want to lose that or clog up the pipes.

“I know that one of the things people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet: That is something I’m opposed to.

“My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can’t—now that he’s there—I can’t just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I’ve been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect that whatever final rules emerge, to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine.”

The remarks were the strongest statement yet from the president against Wheeler’s proposal, which 99 percent of those who submitted comments to the agency also oppose.

Wheeler's plan would allow Internet access providers to favor the content of a few wealthy companies over all other websites and services. More than 3.7 million people have commented on the issue at the FCC, with the vast majority calling on the agency to implement real Net Neutrality rules that would prevent Internet service providers from interfering with online content.

The only way to accomplish the president's goals and meet the public's demands is to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

Title II is the best option, and the only one capable of surviving a court challenge. But Wheeler has resisted taking this essential step, instead favoring an approach that would encourage online discrimination and strand startups, small businesses and everyday Internet users in the slow lane.

With Obama’s latest remarks, there’s no doubt that Wheeler has lost political support for his proposal. The president, leaders in Congress, and millions and millions of Americans have all spoken out against his plan. Wheeler needs to ditch his rules and use the agency's Title II authority to protect real Net Neutrality.

Craig Aaron

Craig Aaron is president and CEO of Free Press, the national, non partisan media reform group. He is the editor of two books, Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times and Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

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