Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 as an outspoken supporter of a free and open Internet. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality,” announced candidate Obama, who showed that he knew what he was talking about by adding that any move that “gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different websites…destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s appointees to chair the Federal Communications Commission have bumbled the job. Miserably. The current chair has for the better part of the past year been peddling various proposals public-interest groups warn could lead to the development of a two-tier Internet with “fast lanes” for paying content from corporate and political elites while stranding non-commercial and grassroots communications—and citizens—in the slow lane.
That is the opposite of what the president has said he wants since he began addressing the issue in 2007. And on Monday he made his sentiments crystal clear, declaring that:
An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.
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. 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. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.
That’s not what FCC chair Tom Wheeler has been proposing over the past several months. In recent weeks, it has been reported that Wheeler is interested in developing an exceptionally complex “hybrid” plan that public-interest groups explain “would split the Internet in two, creating divisions in Internet access and enshrining the notion that people or companies sending information have protections against discrimination, while users have none against their own ISP (Internet service provider).” Such a move would, a proposal that would, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, “leave the door open for all kinds of discriminatory practices.”