Obama Stresses Net Neutrality Goals in State of the Union Adress

The President repeated his long-held vision for a free and open Internet and stressed the importance of wider availability of high-speed Internet access across the nation.

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President Barack Obama outlined his oft-repeated strategy for net neutrality in his State of the Union address to the nation on Jan. 20, repeating his continued calls for strong rules to protect and preserve unfettered access to the Internet for all citizens.

"I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world," the president said in his speech, which lasted more than an hour.

An open and free Internet is critical to the ability to create new innovations, new jobs and new opportunities for Americans across the nation, said Obama. "I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs—converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay," he said.

The president's comments on net neutrality came amid calls for a wide variety of initiatives across a wide swath of government programs aimed at jobs, the economy, defense, energy, education, health care, crime, civil rights and more.

Net neutrality, the idea that the Internet should be accessible to everyone equally without provisions for fast lanes for those willing to pay extra, has been a stated policy of Obama since he ran for the presidency and was elected to his first term in 2008, according to earlier eWEEK reports.

The issue of net neutrality has been a hotbed for several years, with proponents and opponents arguing their positions and bashing the opposition verbally in public forums and discussions.

In September 2014, the FCC announced that it had received a record 3 million comments about proposed rules for net neutrality by a Sept. 15 deadline.

Ultimately, however, decisions about net neutrality will be made in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission, which will hold a vote on proposed new net neutrality rules on Feb. 26, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who announced the move during an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.

Wheeler said at that time that he leaned toward regulating Internet service providers (ISPs) more strictly under Title II of the U.S. communications law, which is also an approach supported by Obama. Wheeler said the proposals will not allow ISPs to block or slow down Websites and won't allow content companies to pay premium rights for faster access for their content.

One proposal of the new net neutrality rules could view Internet service providers as utilities under federal laws, which is a controversial approach that is fueling arguments on both sides.

In November 2014, it appeared that Wheeler and Obama had some differences of opinion about net neutrality, eWEEK reported at the time. Instead of Obama's more strongly worded proposal, Wheeler preferred a more subtle approach that would also address the concerns of the companies that provide Internet access to millions of Americans. Obama had earlier said that he wanted to see the FCC adopt Title II as a way to include ISPs in existing neutrality regulations. Title II refers to the Communications Act, which gives the FCC the power to regulate communications in the United States. Title II was originally intended to make sure that telephone companies provided service to anyone in their coverage area.

In October 2014, officials from AT&T, Comcast and Verizon told U.S. leaders that they do not plan to offer faster Internet access, or so-called "fast lanes," to content producers who are willing to pay more to get their messages out in front of competitors' transmissions, eWEEK reported.