Obama Pushes "Open Internet" Policy That Might Benefit People Over Telecoms, Republicans Freak Out

The President outlined a strong net neutrality plan. The GOP is livid.

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama called for stricter regulation on consumer Internet providers yesterday, outraging Republican leaders like Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner.

Obama surprised advocates of net neutrality when he took their side, saying that the Federal Communications Commission needed to put in place stronger “Open Internet” rules and that higher-fee "fast lanes," which may harm consumers, should be banned. The President, who made his remarks on a video published on The White House website, also suggested that ISPs should be regulated like public utilities.

“The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known,” said Obama. “The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet.

Net neutrality is the belief that the government and Internet service providers should treat all data on the Internet equally and not discriminate or charge different rates based on the user, content, site, software, or equipment. Net neutrality is just one principal in the concept of an "Open Internet," where policies allow people and businesses to access data on the Internet without interference from a third party. The President’s announcement comes only nine days before the FCC was to publish its revised rules on net neutrality.

The President’s statement drove down the values of cable-company stocks and FCC Chairperson Tom Wheeler, a former telecommunications industry lobbyist, responded with a defensive statement of his own.

Wheeler said that while he welcomed the President’s new pro-consumer stance on the issue, he countered by saying the agency "must take the time" to set the rules once and for all.

"The more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do," said Wheeler in a written statement responding to the President.

Republican leaders were angered by the President’s remarks. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is reportedly considering a 2016 run for the White House, immediately attacked Obama’s message, conflating the net neutrality and Obama Administration health-care policies. Cruz said on Twitter that “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government."

Cruz's communications consultant and speech writer, Amanda Carpenter, backed her boss, claiming that net neutrality would put the government "in charge of determining pricing, terms of service, and what products can be delivered. Sound like Obamacare much?"

Cruz was joined by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner who made the wild claim that net neutrality was against the will of the American people and it would destroy advancements in the Internet communications. Boehner, however, stumbled over his words, actually calling for the same "Open Internet" principles he says he's against. 

"It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama administration continues to disregard the people’s will and push for more mandates on our economy,” said Boehner. “An open, vibrant Internet is essential to a growing economy, and net neutrality is a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Watch President Obama’s statement on net neutrality.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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