US President Barack Obama voiced support for a new regulatory system for Internet providers aimed at avoiding a two-speed system leaving some services in an online “slow lane.”
Obama endorsed an effort to reclassify the Internet as a public utility to give regulators authority to enforce “net neutrality,” the principle barring Internet service firms from playing favourites or opening up “fast lanes” for those who pay more.
In a statement on Monday, Obama said he wants the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
Obama’s comment comes as the FCC seeks to draft new rules to replace those struck down this year by a US appeals court, which said the agency lacked authority to regulate Internet service firms as it does telephone carriers.
“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation – but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted,” Obama said in a statement.
“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 added.
Obama said that while the FCC is an independent agency, he wants the regulatory body to maintain key principles of net neutrality.
He said the rules should ensure no blocking of any legal content, to ensure that an Internet provider does not shut out a service such as Netflix to promote a rival one.
Obama seeks to ban “paid prioritisation” that would allow one service to get into a faster lane by paying extra, or the flip side of that, which would be “throttling” or slowing a service which does not pay.
“No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee,” Obama said.
Obama also said he wants the same rules to apply to mobile broadband, which was not covered in the earlier regulations.
The FCC is redrafting its rules after the court decision struck down its regulations in a case brought by US broadband giant Verizon.
Obama’s plan puts him squarely in the camp of consumer activists and many tech firms, such as Google and Microsoft, which have endorsed net neutrality.
But Obama’s move swiftly drew fire from Republican legislatures, who said the proposal amounts to old-style regulation.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Obama’s approach smacks of “heavy-handed regulation that will stifle innovation and concentrate more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats.”
Senator Ted Cruz said the plan “puts the government in charge of determining Internet pricing, terms of service, and what types of products and services can be delivered, leading to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers.”