Industry reacts to Obama net neutrality call

Communications industry players, consumer bodies and legislators have lined up to offer their comments on President Barack Obama’s call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality. Not unsurprisingly, some of the most trenchant criticism comes from Republican politicians who will be seeking to thwart the President’s aspirations on the matter now that they have control of Congress.

Republican House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said the decision to put political pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet was bad for American consumers, would stifle economic growth, and would open the pathway for unnecessary government interference. “The Internet’s revolutionary success is due in large part to an entrepreneurialism that adapts and innovates freely as the Internet evolves. A free and open Internet allows Americans to operate their small businesses, communicate freely, and stay competitive in a changing global economy. Instead of bowing to political pressure from the President, the FCC should take into account the strong bipartisan support for keeping the Internet free and open,” he recommends.

Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and likely to assume the Committee chair in the new legislature, suggested the President’s call would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle the nation’s dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service. “The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate. It is critical that the Internet remain open and that consumers are protected. As it crafts new rules, the FCC should recognise the benefits of its highly successful light-touch regulatory approach to Internet policy and, most importantly, the FCC must follow the law,” he stated.

In May, Thune and the entire Senate Republican leadership team sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying: “Rather than attempting further legal contortions to encumber modern communication networks with last century’s rules, the Commission should work with the Congress to develop clear statutory authority and direction for the agency so that it can be a productive regulator for the 21st century marketplace.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that the growth of the Internet and the rapid adoption of mobile technology had been great American success stories, made possible by a light regulatory touch. “This approach has freed innovators to develop and sell the products people want – and create jobs in the process – without waiting around for government permission. The President’s decision today to abandon this successful approach in favour of more heavy-handed regulation that will stifle innovation and concentrate more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats is a terrible idea. The Commission would be wise to reject it,” he suggested.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi noted that President Obama affirmed that free and open access to the Internet was a bedrock right of the 21st century. “The Internet cannot belong to the wealthy and well-connected; it must be an open space for innovation, entrepreneurship, and communication – a level playing field where success is founded on the best ideas, not the deepest pockets,” she declared.

“Millions of Americans have made their voices heard in support of net neutrality standards that preserve the freedom and opportunity of the Internet. I applaud President Obama’s forceful leadership on this issue as he joins the courts in outlining a clear path forward for the FCC. The FCC must act swiftly to create clear and enforceable net neutrality standards so the Internet can continue to foster freedom and prosperity here in the United States and around the world,” she stated.

“The FCC must ensure that everyone has transparent access to the Internet without intentional delays in service or paid prioritisation schemes. For the sake of our economy and our democracy, we must have strong rules that protect consumer and innovators and will safeguard fair, fast and equal access to the Internet.”

Democrat Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman declared “a great day for the Internet,” suggesting the President had called on the FCC to adopt the three cornerstones of a free and open Internet: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritisation.

“The President is showing true leadership. He has given strong, unequivocal support for robust open Internet protections. And he has made it clear that he stands with consumers and the public, not the cable and phone companies that could profit by turning the Internet into slow and fast lanes. I strongly support the rules the President has articulated and urged the FCC to adopt them in a letter I sent last month. The FCC is right to make sure it has the record it needs to act, but any delay for additional examination should be short. The FCC should now move expeditiously to complete the rulemaking and establish the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritisation that define a free and open Internet,” he suggested.

Demand Progress – a two-million member grassroots organisation that fights for Internet freedom, civil liberties, and government reform said that Obama had made his views unequivocally clear, but accused FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler of remaining “dug in”.

David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progress, said Obama’s call was the latest in the expanding chorus for Title II reclassification. “It is increasingly evident that reclassifying broadband under Title II is the most certain and straightforward way to uphold the Net Neutrality principles FCC Chairman Wheeler espouses to support,” he stated. “Chairman Wheeler, who increasingly finds himself isolated on this issue, has called for more time on Net Neutrality. The chairman must now choose between siding with the President and the millions of Americans who support Net Neutrality, or once more kicking the can down the road,” he stated.

“Any attempt at further foot-dragging in issuing a rule in support of strong Net Neutrality and Title II reclassification will make it clear that Chairman Wheeler is more interested in delay tactics that favour the cable companies he once lobbied for than standing with the President and the public in support of an open Internet,” he added.

Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of the Internet Association said the body applauded President Obama’s proposal for the adoption of meaningful net neutrality rules that apply to both mobile and fixed broadband. “As we have previously said, the FCC must adopt strong, legally sustainable rules that prevent paid prioritisation and protect an open Internet for users. Using Title II authority, along with the right set of enforceable rules, the President’s plan would establish the strong net neutrality protections Internet users require. We welcome the President’s leadership, and encourage the FCC to stand with the Internet’s vast community of users and move quickly to adopt strong net neutrality protections that ensure a free and open Internet,” he stated.

David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer in Open Internet at Comcast said the company fully embraced the open Internet principles that the President and the Chairman of the FCC have espoused – transparency, no blocking, non-discrimination rules, and no ‘fast lanes’, which he suggested was the way it operated its network today. “We continue to believe, however, that section 706 provides more than ample authority to impose those rules, as the DC Circuit made clear. Comcast and cable companies (along with the telcos) have led the broadband revolution, being the first to roll out America’s fastest broadband speeds across the country. As the White House itself acknowledged in its broadband report in 2013, this only happened because we were not subject to the intrusive regulatory regime designed for a different era.,” he noted.

“To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper. This would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation, as today’s immediate stock market reaction demonstrates. And such a radical reversal of consistent contrary precedent should be taken up by the Congress,” he recommended.

“The Internet has not just appeared by accident or gift – it has been built by companies like ours investing and building networks and infrastructure. The policy the White House is encouraging would jeopardise this engine for job creation and investment as well as the innovation cycle that the Internet has generated,” he warned.

Netflix, which has conducted an open campaign against broadband players such as Comcast’s stance in respect of paid prioritisation, tweeted: “Pres. @BarackObama agrees: consumers should pick winners and losers on the Internet, not broadband gatekeepers.”

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