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With two years left in his final term as the chief executive, US President Barack Obama today announced his plan “for a free and open Internet,” the latest ray of hope for proponents of net neutrality. The plan is a good one: the president is proposing that the FCC reclassify Internet connectivity as a utility, which would make it impossible for Internet service providers to hike prices or set up roadblocks based on the kind of sites users want to access.

President Obama explains the rationale for his plan succinctly:

“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

Specifically, the president has proposed that the FCC invokes “title II of the Telecommunications Act” in order to make Internet access a utility. That would put it in the same category as electricity, heat, and hot water. The argument, essentially, is that the Internet has become a vital part of every American citizen’s life, and limiting access to the Internet would threaten the well-being of those citizens.

It’s an argument that’s almost impossible to deny. Most private companies rely on the Internet in some way to communicate with their customers, while public entities throughout local, state, and the federal government use the Internet to inform people about services and requirements. Because of how dependent we all are on the Internet, changing the way it works in the name of greater profits would do Americans a great disservice.

Furthermore, it’d be tough for ISPs to argue that the president’s idea would hurt their business considering they haven’t operated without net neutrality yet. It’d be one thing if pay walls and throttling had already become a widespread practice, but since net neutrality is still in place, it would still be business as usual for ISPs – for the most part, anyway.

Of course, it seems pretty likely that service providers will fight Obama’s plan with everything they have. I don’t doubt that they’ll claim the reclassification hurts their business, and that the government shouldn’t interfere with private companies. But for all our sakes, let’s hope the FCC decides to ignore their impending whining and follows the president’s plan.

[WhiteHouse.gov: Net Neutrality]


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