Obama: Broadband should be regulated as a utility

The president also calls on the FCC to stop broadband providers from charging content companies to prioritize their traffic

U.S. President Barack Obama has made his strongest statement on net neutrality to date, calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a regulated utility, and to prohibit broadband providers from charging Web content producers for paid traffic prioritization.

Obama on Monday called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a common carrier, subject to telephone-style regulations, and to ban broadband carriers from selectively blocking or throttling Web traffic. The president waded into a contentious debate about reclassifying broadband, coming down on the opposite side of many large broadband carriers.

Reclassifying broadband would "keep the Internet free and open," Obama said in a video message. "In plain English, "I'm asking [the FCC] to recognize that, for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life."

Obama's proposal also clashes with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's original net neutrality plan, which would have stopped short of reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act and instead allowed broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management. Wheeler's original plan would have also allowed for some paid prioritization, although the FCC chairman now says he's open to a range of paths to pass new rules, including reclassification.

The FCC is an independent agency, and Obama has no direct power to force the agency to act. Nearly 4 million people submitted comments in the FCC's ongoing net neutrality proceeding, and many of those people have asked the FCC to ensure that "consumers, not the cable company, gets to decide what sites they use," Obama said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationregulationTom WheelerU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentBarack ObamainternetInternet service providersbroadband

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