President Obama throws support behind the FCC's Title II broadband reclassification option

President Barack Obama issued a new statement telling service providers they need to ensure that the Internet remains free and open to any consumer.

During a short video statement, Obama made a plea to the FCC to retain net neutrality rules and said that "there are no gatekeepers that decide what sites you get to access" and that "there are no toll roads on the information superhighway."  

"This set of principles--the idea of net neutrality--has unleashed the power of the Internet and given innovators the chance to thrive," Obama said in a prepared statement. "Abandoning these principles would threaten to end the Internet as we know it. That's why I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to do everything they can to protect net neutrality for everyone."

The neutrality debate has pitted incumbent telcos and cable operators against one another on how premium content like online video should be treated. Supporters of net neutrality say that the Internet should remain open and all traffic should be treated equally. Alternatively, companies that oppose net neutrality would like to see a "toll road" in place that would offer preferential service to companies like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) if they're willing to pay for higher traffic demands.  

One of the loudest proponents for neutrality is Netflix, which has become a major force in the online video race. In a recent FCC filing, Netflix said that service providers can still place bottlenecks on content providers' traffic whenever they want.

The video provider added that the interconnection fees it has to pay Comcast for access to its last-mile network cost more than what it pays to get its data to cable MSO's networks.

Another one of the key controversial issues that still remains with net neutrality is reclassifying the broadband service that service providers like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) offer under Title II of the 1996 Telecom Act.

Obama came out in support of Title II, saying that broadband should be reclassified under the Act.

"I am asking the FCC to reclassify Internet service under a law known as Title II under the law known as the Telecommunications Act," Obama said. "In plain English I am asking them to recognize that for most Americans the Internet has become an essential part of communication and everyday life."

Obama added that while the FCC is an independent agency, the "public has commented nearly 4 million times asking the FCC to make sure that the consumer, not the cable company, gets to decide which sites they use."

Opposition to Title II from telcos like AT&T and Verizon has been fierce.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Verizon issued a statement speaking out against the reclassification, while maintaining support for the open Internet.

"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," Verizon said in a statement. "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."

Verizon added that reclassification would be challenged in the courts and "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.'"

AT&T has been equally outspoken on Title II reclassification.

In a rare meeting one-on-one meeting, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson personally asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last week to reconsider Title II reclassification.

During their meeting, Stephenson said that such a move would "negatively impact broadband infrastructure investment in a manner that would be counterproductive to the Commission's and Administration's goal of making high speed broadband universally available in the United States."

For more:
- see this video
- CNET has this article

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