On Monday, President Barack Obama came out in favor of the "strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality," endorsing a popular proposal that would empower the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally and not charge content providers for better access.
"We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," Obama said in a statement.
The FCC is currently weighing whether ISPs, such as Verizon and Comcast, can choose to block or prioritize delivering traffic to certain websites. The consideration comes in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling in January that struck down the rules that barred companies from doing so. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC was considering a "hybrid" compromise that would empower ISPs to make deals with companies to allow for faster content delivery, while still allowing for oversight.
Obama's plan provides for more regulation than that. He's backing a proposal that would reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, treating the service as a public utility. Under that section, it's illegal "to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services."
Obama is also asking for a ban on paid prioritization, a practice that allows companies to put service in the "slow lane" if a content provider doesn't pay a fee.
"If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it," Obama's statement said. "Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others ... based on the type of service or your ISP's preferences."
Obama's plan won't be popular with telecom companies, but it has wide support from the U.S. public, which submitted to the FCC almost 4 million comments overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality this summer. Whether FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will adopt Obama's plan remains in question.
On Monday morning, a group of protesters showed up at Wheeler's house to advocate for net neutrality. They wielded a banner reading, "Save the Internet," which Wheeler initially helped them hold.
"This is not a photo-op for you to pretend like you're saving the Internet," one protester said.
Wheeler reiterated, "I have long stated, everything is on the table."
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