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Obama’s Promise Of An Open Internet To Be Shattered By GOP Opposition?

Jacob Chung |
January 24, 2011 | 12:17 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Obama's network neutrality promise is facing opposition from new House majority. What will he do?
Obama's network neutrality promise is facing opposition from new House majority. What will he do?

“I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality,” was the promise of then presidential hopeful Barack Obama on his second visit to Google’s Mountain View campus in 2007.

“Because once providers start to privilege some applications or website over others,” Obama continued, “then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.” 

That was the promise then, but a lot has changed since those words were spoken. 

Today, the Federal Communications Commission is facing stiff opposition from GOP leaders and the question on the minds of many network neutrality supporters is: Will Obama be able to come through on his campaign promise? The answer to that question, it seems, varies depending on whom you ask.  

Since Obama's promise in 2007, Google--once a leading advocate for network neutrality--has entered the smart-phone market and partnered with Verizon to draft a new policy on network neutrality that excludes cellular broadband services from following the regulations set for wired Internet services. The Federal Communications Commission’s has faced embarrassment in court when Comcast challenged the its authority to enforce network neutrality policies. And as a means to solidify its relevance on the matter, the commission established a set network neutrality policy

But with all that said, to argue Obama has failed to meet his campaign promise all together would be a stretch. 

According to PolitiFact.com, the “Obamameter on the topic of network neutrality seems to be swaying in his favor. After all, we do have a policy in place—albeit with more bark than bite—that discourages Internet service providers from favoring certain websites over others in transferring lawful data and throttling lawful data being transferred on their network. However, since its inception, the policy has faced a significant backlash.

Net neutrality purists like the organization FreePress, argue that the commission was too lenient with their policies under the pressures of the industry giants like Verizon and Google allowing for compromises including:

  • Broadband providers would be allowed to experiment with dedicated networks to route traffic from specialized services like smart grids and home security systems as long as they, “don’t hurt the public interest.”
  • Wireless networks will still be special under the FCC proposal, just not as special as the plan pitched by Google / Verizon (which only required transparency) over the summer.
  • The proposal would leave the FCC's regulatory framework for broadband unchanged as a lightly regulated "information service," not as a "common carrier" as Genachowski had wanted.

These exceptions have opened the door for loose interpretations and consequently the FCC was called to prove their own policies when MetroPCS seemingly went against its rulings.  

Those opposed to government regulation like House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), John Engsin (R-Nevada) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), to name a few, have argued that government interference with the Internet hinders economic growth and innovation, not the other way around. 

Boehner said in an interview with POLITICO that he expects challenges to me made to reverse the commission’s ruling by the new House majority. Blackburn went a step further introducing H.R. 96 bill (also cited as the “Internet Freedom Act”) with the 59 co-sponsors to overturn the commission’s attempts to regulate the Internet. 

So, did Obama keep his promise of an open Internet that encourages growth and innovation? The answer it seems is, yes, for the time being. 

For more from Neon Tommy's special series examining Obama at the midpoint of his first term, click here.

Reach reporter Jacob Chung here.



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