Obama shows the way on Net neutrality

President Obama comes out swinging for Title II classification of ISPs; the FCC should follow his lead

Internet sign
flickr/James Cridland

If you’ve been reading these parts for even a little while, you’re sure to have come across one of my many Net neutrality discussions. As tiresome as it has been to pound on the same podium over and over, it has been necessary — and President Obama’s very public statement asking that Internet service providers be classified under Title II is a major step in the fight for an open Internet.

Of course, no reasonable person would think this fight should have to be fought. Common sense dictates that ISPs are telecom providers and should be held to the same open standards as electricity, phone, and other regulated utilities. The ISPs managed to get the FCC to classify them as "information services" instead of telecom utilities because they offered tokens such as email addresses to their customers alongside their data services, and that has allowed us to get to this point. It's a farce.

The Internet is as much of a utility as any other these days, and we cannot play fast and loose with those rules. Otherwise, we risk everything.

Of course, that didn’t stop Sen. Ted Cruz from coming out with a pants-on-head stupid comment about Net neutrality being "Obamacare for the Internet." Making a statement that amazingly dumb in public would probably have found him signed up for forced sterilization in the 1950s. It’s this kind of blatant, arrogant, willful ignorance that undermines our democracy. But enough about the dim, let’s look at the future.

With Obama very openly supporting Title II classification for carriers, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has a very difficult choice ahead. He must jettison either the hordes of ISP lobbying money thrown all around him or the president who appointed him and who has very clearly stated his wishes. It’s not a comfortable spot, but Wheeler arrived here on his own, buoyed by months of equivocation, refusal to participate in public hearings, and horrible “compromises” that weren’t compromises at all. Wheeler's actions will ultimately have a massive impact on the Internet and the United States for decades to come.

If we see carriers classified under Title II, you can expect competition in broadband markets where there hasn’t been competition before. You can expect to see rates go down and speeds go up. You can expect to see more rural areas lit up with actual broadband, not merely enough data to allow for the big ISPs to call it broadband and receive Universal Service Fund money.

The constant threat of ISPs blocking and prioritizing content based on who pays them enough on either end of their pipe will disappear. Data caps will vanish. This is a good thing for all concerned, except for the big ISPs who were salivating at being allowed to be the gatekeepers of the Internet.

Remember, two of those big ISPs are still making motions like they are going to merge into one gigantic disaster of a company, serving a massive portion of the U.S. Internet customers as a monopoly. As I was saying before, the fact that this idea is being entertained at any level is disturbing to the point of seeming like fiction. Yet here we are.

The next month will be hailed as a major crossroads in the history of the Internet and, with it, the history of the world. Decisions made here will have huge technological and financial repercussions across the globe. We are playing games not only with the service that delivers funny cat pictures and "Breaking Bad" episodes to our homes, but with the technology that forms the foundation of huge markets, lifts our economy, and supports millions and millions of jobs. This is a very big deal.

There are those who are ill-equipped with the facts about the need for this reclassification or blithely buy into the straight-up lies coming from those who would sabotage the country to favor their moneyed interests. They are told that this is the government trying to control the Internet, when it is in fact the opposite — it’s the government mandating that nobody controls the Internet and allows anyone to be able to supply Internet services on a level playing field, while maintaining that those services are free and clear of artificial obstruction.

Republicans and conservatives should be falling all over themselves to embrace Net neutrality, not fight it. Unfortunately, the money doesn't want it that way. Instead, it's unleashing geysers of misinformation in order to distort the discussion. The Verge has a pretty good take on this horror of modern politics.

Our electricity is so important that we regulate it this way — same with our telephone network. We need power, we need telephones, and in 2014, we need the Internet. To think otherwise is to defy reason.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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