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Why President Obama wants Internet to become an utility

Tech EyePresident Barack Obama has stopped with the vague rhetoric and officially called the FCC to put strict regulations in place against ISP’s seeking to limit internet speeds as part of a tiered internet. Not surprisingly, chairman Tom Wheeler has spoken out against it.

We have talked on this website about Tom Wheeler before. The chairman in charge of coming up with a proposal for internet regulation faced harsh criticism from the public for repeatedly caving to major companies accused of violating FCC rules, such as Xfinity/Comcast. Now, he is speaking out against Obama’s call for the internet to become a protected utility, which would limit ISP control.

However, his words now are much less harsh than they were before. Wheeler was speaking to several companies, including Google and Yahoo. He said that he wanted to find a way to “split the baby” a perhaps misguided phrase referring to how they could find a “nuanced” solution that would still give some control to internet based businesses.

What it comes down to is this: Obama wants an open internet that doesn’t allow ISP’s to auction off favorable speeds to bidders, something that companies like Netflix, for example, have been adamant against. The ability for ISP’s to do this would also impact (and has impacted) consumers, thanks to the controversial practice of throttling.

Chairman Wheeler is approaching it from the other end. It can’t be a coincidence that a man who was once a lobbyist specifically in the telecom game wants to bow to the will of major online businesses. He was a part of that world then, and he is doubtlessly a part of it now. How could a non-partisan response be expected from someone who so clearly has had a financial agenda within the industry?

It has certainly widened an already gaping rift between Wheeler and Obama, who have been at odds even before the president took a hard stance on the issue. It is an interesting juxtaposition to how their relationship began, with Wheeler in heavy support of Obama’s run.

The reason it is happening now is likely due to the ending of the election, in which Republicans took Congress. Presidential policies are going to get increasingly intense in the coming months as campaigning season edges closer, and Net Neutrality is a hot button topic.

What Obama Is Calling For

President Obama’s intentions, which have been hinted at for months, finally became clear earlier this week when he spoke directly to the FCC on the matter. He wants the internet to be officially named a utility, and so regulated with the same aggressive policies that are seen for those services.

Companies like Verizon and Comcast have long since been pushing the bounds of legality, under the protection of huge funds towards lobbyists in Congress and beyond. Comcast in particular has grown to a massive degree, and the latest collaboration in the purchase of Time Warner has further increased their power. Verizon has been cited several times for growing a monopoly in mobile broadband, and several companies in relation have been cited for slowing internet speeds.

Most controversial has been the fight between Comcast and Netflix, as the streaming service demands that ISPs not be allowed to create a tiered program that would require companies to pay more for fast upload speeds. Netflix in particular has experienced friction due to slow downs when using their service.

In his speech, Obama called for net neutrality, and for the FCC to begin putting strict regulations in place that would disallow this practice.

It goes beyond just what speeds ISPs allow the internet to be used on. Net Neutrality (or a lack of it, more specifically) would give undue power to corporations. This would begin restricting the web in a way that sets a dangerous precedent, and restricts the creation of new startups or consumer run websites, which would be treated like second class citizens online.

The plan to reclassify the web under Title II of the Communications Act is not a new one, and several proponents of an open internet have presented it as a quick way around the loop holes these companies have been employing, many of which were put in through backdoor legislation paid for by their lobbying dollars. Netflix even came out in full support of the plan.

It is the first time Obama has done more than state it is a possibility. Unfortunately, with Republicans now in control of Congress, the issue of Net Neutrality (largely partisan against from the Right) will face greater opposition than ever. Though some non-partisan report from both Democrats and Republicans could potentially push the issue enough to allow a plan at least taking the utility issue into consideration.

In the end, we will probably see a solution that doesn’t please anyone. Regardless of the president’s support, this is not something that is likely to be solved so easily.

Source: Washington Post

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