President Obama has come out in support of reclassifying internet service as a utility, a move that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to enforce more robust regulations and protect net neutrality.
“To put these protections in place, I’m asking the FCC to reclassifying internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act,” Obama says in a statement this morning. “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.”
There’s been a growing battle around protecting net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic, no matter what it is or where it came from, should be treated equally — ever since the FCC’s original protections were struck down in court earlier this year. Those protections were able to be struck down because the commission didn’t make those rules in a way that it actually had authority over, so it’s been trying to create new rules that it can actually enforce. It hasn’t chosen to use Title II so far, but net neutrality advocates, now including President Obama, have been pushing for its use.
Regulating internet service under Title II would mean reclassifying it as a utility, like water. This means that internet providers would just be pumping internet back and forth through pipes and not actually making any decisions about where the internet goes. For the most part, that’s controversial idea in the eyes of service providers alone. It means that they’re losing some control over what they sell, and that they can’t favor certain services to benefit their own business. Instead, providers would be stuck allowing consumers to use the internet as they want to, using whatever services they like without any penalty. If that sounds pretty great, it’s because that’s basically how the internet has worked up until now.