Obama Calls on FCC to Protect Net Neutrality

Rhett Pardon

WASHINGTON — President Obama today called on the FCC to preserve "a free and open Internet" by enforcing the principle of treating all traffic the same way and forgetting about a proposal to add virtual toll roads.

The presidential request for net neutrality hones in on whether broadband should be placed under Title II regulation under the Telecommunications Act, which already tightly controls phone services.

The regulation dictates how common carriers must conduct business across all forms of communication in order to act "in the public interest."

Obama, in a statement, said ISPs should not be allowed to act as gatekeepers, restricting what consumers see online.  

“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. "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.”

Marc Randazza, a name partner with Randazza Legal Group who represents a large number of online adult entertainment clients, said that while he's for net neutrality, he's not "harshly at odds with those who want to protect capitalism on the Internet." 

"In the [online adult] industry, we could have a split of opinions," Randazza told XBIZ. "For example, one of the biggest bandwidth hogs on the Internet is bit torrent distribution of mostly pirated films. Imagine if Verizon slowed bit torrent traffic to a crawl. We might see a downturn in piracy.

"Of course, Verizon could then employ the same principle and slow down legitimate porn distribution, or slow down any other service — or charge more for it — if they don't like the content."  

The FCC was expected to prepare an official guideline on the topic later this year; however reports claim that there likely will be a delay until early next year. With Obama's call today for an open Internet highway, a timeline could be further delayed.

Randazza said that stakeholders in the adult biz should research the issue before weighing in on it.

"Anytime you hear someone whine 'you'll break the Internet,' you should presume that they are lying. But, that is a rebuttable presumption. So, let's start with who you're supposed to trust here. If we do not have net neutrality, then what do we have?  

"On one side of it, we have the principle of private property rights.  If a company owns the fiber and the network, why shouldn't they have a right to provide better service to some customers?" 

Randazza noted  that airlines have first-class as well as coach seats, so why not operate the Internet in the same fashion.     

"In short, why can't a company look at its least profitable users and charge more money? If they could, presumably they would then use some of those profits to fund network upgrades, bringing better connectivity to everyone.  

"On the other hand, a lot of people look at Internet access as a right, not just an optional service. And, that is not an unpersuasive argument," he said. "In fact, there are some persuasive arguments that Internet access should be seen as a public utility. It is a universal need for most people, and it isn't like you can often choose to use a different provider. Most Internet providers are virtual monopolies."

While Randazza said that he understands both sides of the issue, he warns of those who might confuse the issue.

"The only people I think you should not trust are those who promote their view with religious zeal," he said.

Industry attorney Gregory A. Piccionelli, a name partner of Piccionelli & Sarno, told XBIZ that he welcomed the president's statement on net neutrality.

"And while he is very late to this party, I am glad he decided to finally show up," Piccionelli said. "As I have indicated in a number of online articles and numerous public appearances, the stakes in this contest are high —  not just for the future of the Internet and everyone that uses it, but also potentially for the broader economy and even for the preservation of freedom of expression in a country now so deeply dependent on the Internet."