Obama: ‘Free, Open Internet’

Demonstrator Margaret Flowers outside the Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., on  May 14, 2014.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Demonstrator Margaret Flowers outside the Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 2014.

As federal regulators today advanced on a 3-2 vote a plan to let Internet service providers led by AT&T and Comcast charge Web-based companies such as Google and Facebook for the use of faster lanes for their content, the White House warned that it remains committed to “a free and open Internet.”

The vote of the Federal Communications Commission starts a comment-and-review period intended to lead to a second vote and a final rule later this year, as Bloomberg’s Todd Shields and Chris Strohm report. A federal court in January threw out open-Internet rules that the agency adopted in 2010.

“I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said today. The debate “is not about whether the Internet must be open, but about how and when we will have rules in place.”

Both of the Republicans on the commission voted against the proposal.

“Nothing less than the future of the Internet depends on how we resolve this disagreement,” said Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the Republicans. “A dispute this fundamental is not for us, five unelected individuals, to decide,” he said, adding that this is Congress’s job.

“The president has made clear since he was a candidate that he strongly supports net neutrality and an open Internet,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement issued after the vote. “the Internet’s incredible equality – of data, content, and access to the consumer – is what has powered extraordinary economic growth and made it possible for once-tiny sites like eBay or Amazon to compete with brick and mortar behemoths.

“The FCC is an independent agency, and we will carefully review their proposal,” he said. “The FCC’s efforts were dealt a real challenge by the Court of Appeals in January, but Chairman Wheeler has said his goal is to preserve an open Internet, and we are pleased to see that he is keeping all options on the table. We will be watching closely as the process moves forward in hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net neutrality. The President is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet, and will consider any option that might make sense.”

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