Obama: I'm Opposed to Paid Prioritization

President Says He Expects FCC Rules To Prevent Tiered Internet, Though Decision Is Up To FCC

President Barack Obama said Thursday (Oct. 9) that tiered Internet service should not be allowed, and he expected the FCC to insure that it did not happen.

Asked at a California town hall meeting on innovation for his views on net neutrality, the president pointed out that it was an issue he had been thinking and talking about for awhile--since at least the 2008 campaign--and remained focused on. He said he expected the FCC's final rules would not allow a two-tiered Internet, though the decision was up to the FCC.

"[T]here are a lot of aspects to net neutrality," he said. "I know one of the things that people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet. That's something I’m opposed [to]. I was opposed to it when I ran. I continue to be opposed to it now.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed restoring network neutrality rules thrown out by the courts that would allow for commercially reasonable discrimination, though he has since said that was a proposal and that final rules had not been arrived at.

Net Neutrality activists have argued that that commercially reasonable standard opens the door to paid prioritization, which would create Internet fast and slow lanes. Wheeler has signaled that anti-competitive paid priority would not be commercially reasonable, but his critics say they can't count on the next chairman or FCC agreeing with that call if the commissioner provides for that commercially reasonable standard.

Wheeler said last month that that if paid prioritization hurts consumers, competition, the virtuous cycle of innovation and investment, or degrades service it's "DOA," and he thinks it does just that.

That came in response to the President's statement at a conference on African businesses that "[T]he position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here, is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users. You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed."

But the president said this week that the call is Wheeler's and the FCC's to make.

"They came out with some preliminary rules that I think Netroots and a lot of folks in favor of net neutrality were concerned with," said the President. "My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position.  I can't -- now that he’s there, I can't just call him up and tell him exactly what to do."

The President signaled how he would vote. "[W]hat I’ve been clear about, what the White House has been clear about is, is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine."