U.S. Sen. Barack Obama promised Oct. 29 to impose network neutrality mandates on broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast if elected to the White House next year. Network neutrality laws, Obama said, would create a "level playing field for whoever has the best idea."
Speaking at an MTV-sponsored campaign event in Iowa, Obama said the telecom and cable providers who control 98 percent of U.S. broadband connections should not be allowed to "charge different rates to different Web sites and Webcasts."
"Right now the speed with which and quality of your downloads or links are the same if youre going to the CNN or Time Warner Web site as if you were going to barackobama.com," he said. "But what youve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and portals through which youre getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers."
AT&T has publicly stated it wants to charge Internet content, application and service providers extra fees based on bandwidth consumption, a practice that network regulation proponents claim would amount to price discrimination.
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In response to a question about his commitment to network neutrality, Obama said, if elected, he would appoint only pro-network neutrality Federal Communications Commission members. "I want to maintain that basic principle in how the Internet functions and as president Im going to make sure that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward," he said.
Absent network neutrality laws, Obama said, "You could get much better quality from the Fox News site and youd be getting rotten service from some mom and pop site. And that, I think, destroys one of the best things about the Internet-which is that there is this incredible equality there."
Obamas position is hardly new. The Illinois senator and the other Democratic presidential candidates all support network neutrality rules. Only one Republican candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has publicly stated he supports network neutrality.
Obamas comments, though, mark the first time the issue has publicly emerged as a campaign issue. The question at the MTV event came from a MoveOn.org member. The liberal online grassroots group has campaigned for network neutrality laws for more than two years.
"MoveOn members will now ask other presidential candidates to follow Obamas lead and make these solid promises on net neutrality," Adam Greene, who heads MoveOns network neutrality initiative, said in a statement.
Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are co-sponsors of legislation introduced in the Senate by Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that would require broadband providers to treat all network traffic equally. The bill would allow broadband providers to create tiered pricing as long as there is equal access to each tier.
"The Internet as we know it does not discriminate among its users. It does not decide who can enter its marketplace and it does not pick which views can be heard and which ones silenced," Clinton said in a January statement announcing her support of the legislation. "It is the embodiment of the fundamental democratic principles upon which our nation has thrived for hundreds of years."
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