[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Monday said [statement] that he strongly supports the concept of net neutrality [NYT backgrounder], the idea that providers should treat all Internet data equally and not give preferential treatment. Specifically, net neutrality is aimed at curbing large companies who could use their power to enter into exclusive agreements with Internet service providers to ensure that their data is transmitted at faster speeds or during periods of high demand. Obama stated:
“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 [FCC] to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] is nearing a decision as to what the new rules will be, and this statement by the president is a rare occasion in which an administration has attempted to influence the decisions of an independent agency. Tom Wheeler [official profile], the Obama-appointed chairman of the FCC, also expressed support [USA Today report] for net neutrality.
Net neutrality has emerged as a major political issue in the US and internationally. In May the FCC adopted [JURIST report] new Internet traffic rules in light of a recent court decision [opinion, PDF], which struck down former rules requiring broadband providers to employ nondiscriminatory practices in the treatment of Internet content. In April the European Parliament approved [JURIST report] a net neutrality proposal that prohibits ISPs from enhancing or restricting services for selected Internet traffic. The proposed law, approved by a 534-25 vote with 58 abstentions, aims to treat all Internet traffic equally by making it illegal to block, slow down or give preferential treatment to certain specific applications and services for economic or other reasons. In February the FCC announced it will not appeal [JURIST report] the court ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that struck down net neutrality.