President Obama came out swinging today against proposed measures he said would "end the Internet as we know it," by allowing service providers to create fast and slow lanes.
As protesters gathered outside the house of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Obama lent his support by issuing a statement and a YouTube video explaining why he supports keeping the Internet open to all equally.
"Net neutrality has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation -- but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted," Obama said in a statement. "We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas."
Industry insiders have said a free Internet remains a priority, however they are asking the FCC for more leeway for how they package and sell various Internet plans. Activists have rallied against the idea over the fear it could create toll roads on the so-called "information superhighway".
Obama outlined his plan for what he called "simple, common-sense steps" that he said will protect consumers, including classifying the consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Obama acknowledged, however, that the FCC "is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone."
Among the four basic points of the president's plan are no blocking websites for certain users, no throttling (creating a fast and slow lane), more transparency between consumers and Internet service providers and no paid prioritization to move to the front of the line.
Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the former chairman of the FCC, said in a statement he was surprised Obama had waded into the debate. Powell's group is the primary lobbying force of the cable industry.
"We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and call for extreme Title II regulation," Powell said. "The cable industry strongly supports an open Internet, is building an open Internet, and strongly believes that over-regulating the fastest growing technology in our history will not advance the cause of Internet freedom."
The FCC has received more than 4 million comments to date about net neutrality.
Wheeler welcomed Obama's input in a statement and said a "hybrid" approach that had been discussed had since raised "substantive legal questions" that would need to be examined.
"We found we would need more time to examine these to ensure that whatever approach is taken, it can withstand any legal challenges it may face," Wheeler said.