Despite the drubbing he and his party took last week in the midterm elections, Barack Obama has decided to come out swinging on the issue of net neutrality. In a statement released on Monday, Obama reemphasized his commitment to preserving net neutrality and offered up his own plan that would reclassify Internet service providers as utilities under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The surprise statement was an implicit rebuke of current Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who this year proposed allowing ISPs to create Internet “fast lanes” that would let them charge content providers more money to ensure their traffic got delivered more quickly than traffic on the “standard” Internet.
“The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do,” Obama said. “To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.”
Of course, Obama has no direct say in what the FCC ultimately decides to do, as he can really only add public pressure on the commission to change its stance. Nonetheless, this is the kind of high-profile embrace of net neutrality that many advocates have been waiting for and it comes as particularly surprising because it was Obama’s call to appoint a longtime cable company lobbyist to run the FCC in the first place.