Groups push for net neutrality in Obama administration

Net neutrality advocates call on the President-elect to act quickly to prevent broadband providers from blocking access to Internet content

Advocates of net neutrality rules in the U.S. have called on President-elect Barack Obama to act quickly to prevent broadband providers from blocking or impairing access to Internet content of customers' choice.

The Open Internet Coalition on Wednesday called on Obama to follow through with his promises during the presidential campaign to establish net neutrality rules. Members of the coalition also called on Obama to appoint a new chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission who would enforce net neutrality rules and champion broadband competition.

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In addition, Obama should appoint leaders at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice who will promote an open Internet through antitrust and consumer-protection laws, and he should put key staff in place at the new office of U.S. chief technology officer and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to promote open Internet ideals both in the U.S. and overseas, the groups said in their letter to the Obama transition team.

"Net neutrality is certainly one key part of the platform, but it's only one part," said Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group that's part of the coalition. "We want to make certain that these institutions of government are prepared to implement an open Internet agenda and respond appropriately to threats."

Members of the group, asked if they believe Obama will act on net neutrality and broadband competition given priorities such as the U.S. economy, said they expect the new president to move ahead on tech issues. "Providing affordable, accessible, high-speed Internet to all Americans is part of the economic recovery," said Markham Erickson, director of the coalition.

Coalition members said they're encouraged that Obama talked about keeping the Internet open in a tech policy paper released more than a year ago. "When it comes to people lobbying, we're always going to be behind," Brodsky said. "The telephone companies are the biggest, wealthiest, and have the [largest] army of people out there. What we have now that we didn't have before is backing of an administration."

Large broadband providers have questioned the need for new net neutrality laws, saying that the FCC has already acted against carriers that have unreasonably blocked or slowed Internet content. Strict net neutrality rules may discourage investment in broadband networks at a time when Obama is calling for more broadband, they have said.

A representative of Comcast, the nation's largest broadband provider, declined to comment on the coalition's letter. Representatives of Verizon Communications and Hands Off the Internet, a group opposing net neutrality rules, weren't immediately available for comment.

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