By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The New York Times
The Federal Communications Commission, which could soon allow phone and cable companies to block or interfere with Internet content, has been deluged with more than a million comments. Last week, President Obama offered some thoughts of his own by saying that the Internet should be left open “so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.”
The F.C.C. is trying to decide whether telecommunications companies should be able to strike deals with powerful firms like Netflix and Amazon for faster delivery of videos and other data to consumers. Mr. Obama’s statement about “the next Google” highlights one of the biggest problems with such agreements: Small and young businesses will not be able to compete against established companies if they have to pay fees to telephone and cable companies to get content to users in a timely manner.
Mr. Obama also argued against efforts by some countries to control and censor information on the Internet. “Closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind,” he warned.
As a candidate in 2007, Mr. Obama rightly opposed letting telecommunications companies charge “different rates to different websites.” But Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the F.C.C. who was appointed by Mr. Obama, has proposed troubling rules that would allow cable and phone firms to enter into specials with companies like Facebook and Google as long as the contracts are “commercially reasonable.” These rules would effectively allow telecoms to divide the Internet into fast and slow lanes.
The commission has a better option. It can reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, which would allow regulators to prohibit phone and cable companies like Verizon and Comcast from engaging in unjust or unreasonable discrimination against content. The F.C.C. wrongly classified broadband as an information service during the administration of George W. Bush, a decision that has limited the F.C.C.’s ability to protect consumers and smaller Internet firms.
Mr. Obama is sending Mr. Wheeler and his fellow commissioners a message. They should pay attention.