President Obama on Monday came out with a full-throated defense of so-called net neutrality, advocating for new rules that would keep the Internet free from the influence of broadband companies seeking to control customers' speed and access. But not everyone is a fan of Obama's stand.
"'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet," Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted Monday in response to the president's announcement. "The Internet should not operate at the speed of government."
The Texas Republican's tweeted criticism seems to betray an inherent misunderstanding of what net neutrality is. "He's searching desperately for a talking point," says Free Press spokesman Timothy Karr. "He swung and he missed."
Net neutrality advocates, meanwhile, were thrilled that Obama finally found his voice on an issue he has long pledged to support. "The president who promised to take a back seat to no one on Net Neutrality has finally gotten in the driver's seat. And he may have saved the Internet at the moment it was in the greatest jeopardy,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the pro-net neutrality advocacy group Free Press, in a statement.
Taking action on net neutrality was a key promise for candidate Obama on the 2008 and 2012 campaign trails, and eventually one he was criticized for not fulfilling in January, when a federal judge first struck down regulations aimed at protecting net neutrality, and in April, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to start deciding which content moves fastest online.
Now, in the wake of a brutal series of midterm losses for Democrats, the president is taking a bold stand in support of net neutrality, asking the FCC for big changes to protect the Internet.
“I’m asking them to recognize that for most Americans the Internet has become an essential part of every day communications and every day life,” he said in a video released Monday introducing the recommendations, which include reclassifying the Internet as a utility, like the phone.
“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,” Obama wrote in an extended proposal.
Net neutrality is the president’s first policy push since he and his party got beat -- badly -- in Tuesday’s midterm elections, and an easy opportunity to placate the liberal base, which remains resentful over the party's decision to put politics ahead of priorities like immigration action. Nearly 4 million people appealed to the FCC over its latest net neutrality proposal, something the president credits in his proposal.
The FCC -- an independent agency not overseen by the president -- is currently working on new regulations. The president’s plan has four key components: no blocking, no throttling, more transparency, and no paid prioritization. That means ISPs can’t block, prioritize, slow or speed up traffic to a site because of their affiliations -- or lack thereof -- with Internet providers. It proposes applying all the regulations to both personal computers and mobile phones, a decision he says reflects how consumers use the internet.
“If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs,” the president notes in his proposal. “But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.”
In a Reddit AMA, R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Technology and Economic Policy at the White House, succinctly explained that the president's urging was as far as his authority allowed.
"The decision now lies with the FCC," he said.