When it comes to the future of the internet, the leader of the free world has sided with the singer of “Radio Free Europe.”
President Barack Obama today released a plan fully supporting what’s known as net neutrality, the principle that all online data should be treated equally. He also made plain his opposition to the idea of an internet “slow lane,” where broadband companies would be able to charge Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and other content providers huge amounts for faster access to customers.
The White House plan echoes an open letter endorsing net neutrality earlier this year that was signed by a host of musicians, including Michael Stipe, Jeff Mangum, Fugazi, tUnE-yArDs, Neko Case, Roger Waters, Fred Armisen, Kimya Dawson, Mirah, Tom Morello, Thao Nguyen, YACHT, the Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello, Kronos Quartet and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth.
“For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business,” Obama said in a statement announcing the plan. “That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information —whether a phone call, or a packet of data.”
Obama set out basic principles for an open internet. First, internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to block internet users from access to a website or service. Second, internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to slow down or speed up certain content on purpose, in a process known as “throttling.” Third, transparency should increase about how some sites might get special treatment even before the point of connection between the internet provider and internet user. Finally, internet providers shouldn’t be able to charge for faster access to internet users.
The Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency not required to follow the president’s instructions, has been considering new rules for net neutrality. In April, The Washington Post quoted an FCC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, as saying the new rules would grant the likes of Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable “the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers.” Netflix has already struck a deal with Comcast to reduce delays for its subscribers.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement responding to Obama’s plan, said the agency would need more time, suggesting it won’t vote on new rules until 2015. Wheeler confirmed that the FCC had been looking at a so-called hybrid approach to the open Internet, where transactions between content providers and broadband companies would be regulated separately from transactions between broadband companies and internet user. But the details of that strategy are far from clear.
“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,” Wheeler said.
Future of Music Coalition, an artists’ advocacy group, hailed Obama’s plan. “This is a huge deal for all Internet users, including artists, whose creative expression, sites and services must not be discriminated against on the whims of a few powerful Internet Service Providers, like Comcast and Verizon,” Casey of Rae, VP for policy and education, wrote in a blog post.
The American Association of Independent Music, which represents many leading indie labels, has previously come out against the idea of a two-tiered internet and in favor of preserving net neutrality.