Obama backs net neutrality

US president Barack Obama has come out in support of net neutrality, saying open access should be seen as a basic right

US president Barack Obama has come out in support of net neutrality, saying open access should be seen as a basic right.

The principle of net neutrality dictates data packets on the internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source.

The issue has been the subject of intensive lobbying and debate, with telecoms companies pushing for the right to charge extra to internet firms that rely heavily on the telco’s investments in capacity.

In April 2014, members of the European Parliament voted strongly in favour of proposed legislation to prevent telcos blocking or slowing down selected services for any reason.

But in September 2014, the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted in favour of proposals opponents claim would create a two-tiered internet.

Critics said the proposals meant those unwilling or unable to pay the premiums set by network operators for unrestricted bandwidth would be relegated to a slow lane.

The proposals sparked an internet slowdown protest on 10 September 2014 by top web firms including Twitter and Netflix.

The proposals were drawn up after a US appeals court ruled the FCC did not have the authority to impose the net neutrality rule, which requires internet firms to treat all web traffic equally.

The court ruled Verizon should be allowed to charge to carry traffic from bandwidth-heavy services such as Netflix.

But Obama has now joined the debate, saying internet service providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.

Net neutrality, he said, has been built into the fabric of the net since its creation and has been essential to its growth and continuing influence.

Obama called on the FCC to answer the call by millions who have come out in support of net neutrality, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect the principle.

Net neutrality advocates have called on the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as "Title Two telecommunications services" instead of "information services", reports the BBC.

The reclassification would enable the FCC to treat ISPs as utilities, which would in turn give it the power to impose the net neutrality rule.

Opponents have questioned whether the FCC has the power to change the classification and claim it will stifle innovation.

We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, to successfully protect consumers and innovators online

Tom Wheeler, FCC

ISPs say they need the ability to charge extra to help fund continual investment in US internet infrastructure.

Obama has now called on the FCC to create new rules so "neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online".

He also came out in support of reclassifying ISPs as utilities, but framed his comments as a suggestion, saying the FCC had the ultimate final say in how it addresses the issue.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly said Obama’s statement was an "important and welcome" contribution to the net neutrality debate.

Wheeler also re-iterated the FCC’s opposition to net fast lanes, but said the issue was complex and the FCC needs more time to work out the legal challenges of reclassifying ISPs.

"We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, to successfully protect consumers and innovators online," he said in a statement.

Obama’s involvement comes in a bid to push the FCC to resolve the issue, and because net neutrality was one of his major presidential election campaign promises, according to Time.

Obama is likely thinking about what his legacy will be when his time as president is up in 2016, the publication said.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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