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President Obama: Tying A Lightning Rod To The Internet

For better or worse, President Barack Obama could be cited as newsmaker for myriad issues in 2014, but from a consumer electronics perspective, he stands out for his directive to the Federal Communications Commission on so-called net neutrality.

Just days after the president’s Democratic party suffered big election day losses in Congress and the states’ governorship, Obama remained unbowed and laid out his agenda for preserving so-called net neutrality, which the White House defined as Internet providers treating Internet traffic equally, no matter what it is or where it comes from.

The position arose out of the growing debate that roiled up after the FCC’s original protections were struck down in court earlier in year. The president has called for the FCC to reclassify Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

“In plain English, I’m asking [the FCC] to recognize that for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life,” Obama said in a statement, adding that there “should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.”

Regulating Internet service under Title II would mean reclassifying it as a utility – a proposition that has become a lightning rod, with both sides of the debate claiming it will either nurture or throttle innovation.

Service providers are understandably upset because it will mean losing some control over what and how they sell and prevent them from favoring certain services to benefit their own interests.

Another issue with which the FCC must contend as they reclassify net neutrality rules is whether or not to allow so-called Internet “fast lanes,” which would effectively defeat what net neutrality sets out to prevent.

As this went to press, the FCC continued to weigh Title II against various options, including a hybrid Title II/Sec. 706 approach to establish bright-line rules banning blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

Although the commission’s no-blocking and no-unreasonable discrimination rules were no longer in force, service providers have pledged to abide by them, and Comcast is required to under the terms of its NBC Universal merger condition.

Whatever is ultimately proposed won’t likely be voted on until February or March of next year.