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Obama Indicates Opposition to Internet ‘Fast Lanes’

When President Obama spoke at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on Tuesday, he was asked about his position on net neutrality, the rules of the road for the Internet that are pending before the FCC.

At the center of the debate is whether the FCC will pass rules that will allow Internet providers to strike deals allowing content companies to gain speedier and better access to the consumer, known as paid prioritization or “fast lanes.”

Asked about the topic, Obama said, “One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers.  That’s the big controversy here.  You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.

“And I personally — the 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.”

Groups like Move On and Credo cited the remarks as meaning that Obama favors banning paid prioritization altogether. “This is significant progress in the fight to restore and protect net neutrality,” MoveOn said in a letter to supporters. “If we seize this moment, it could be a turning point.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal would prohibit commercially unreasonable practices by Internet providers, a standard that critics say would be too weak to prevent paid prioritization deals. So Wheeler also is asking for public comment on whether the FCC should ban paid prioritization outright, or even reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service. The latter would give the FCC greater regulatory oversight.

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