Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Obama on Net Neutrality

The President came out strong for net neutrality yesterday. This is an issue dear to the hearts of us small internet proprietors -- I think it is not far-fetched to imagine a world in which cable providers designate 99% of their bandwidth for big companies who pay them fat fees, and force all other traffic onto painfully slow side connections, or block some sites altogether. One of the exciting things about the internet is its potential for real democracy of information. Anybody can post opinions and data online, for everyone else to judge. Of course it hasn't worked out that way in practice and never will, but at least there is the potential for anyone's post to be widely read, and for anyone's opinions to be taken as seriously as those of editors and pundits. Obama has been a consistent proponent of net neutrality and the free internet for as long as he has been in public life, so he gets points on this for both consistency and being on the right side:
For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data. So 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. . . .

The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:
  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

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