One thing's becoming increasingly clear in the net neutrality debate: No proposal is going to make everyone happy.
And that was particularly apparent following President Obama's statement Monday, which favored creating strong net neutrality regulations. There wasn't much that was new in what he proposed--for example, classifying internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities and regulating them accordingly has been kicked around since 2010.
Nonetheless, the president's plan provoked a firestorm of reaction. While net neutrality proponents enthusiastically supported the proposal, which would fit ISPs under the stringent Title II section of the Telecommunications Act, opponents said the proposal was heavy-handed and would destroy the internet.
More specifically, they say it would impose a 20th-century standard on 21st-century technology. Regulating the internet like a public utility will throttle broadband and internet innovation, critics suggest, and stultify the free functioning of the Web. It would also represent an overreach of the authority of the FCC, they note.
Let's face it, though. The president's plan was just as unpopular as the road map Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler floated a week ago. In that plan, Wheeler proposed splitting the difference by regulating ISPs under Title II when it comes to their dealings with other businesses, such as large content providers. When it comes to consumers, ISPs would be regulated under the less stringent section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.
Opponents said that plan could easily trigger service differences for consumers, including the dreaded fast and slow lanes, depending on how much they are willing to pay. Proponents of Wheeler's hybrid approach, of which there were admittedly few, said the plan might be marginally workable, but probably would not hold up to a court challenge.
Here's a sampling of opinions on the president's net neutrality proposal:
Those in Favor:
David Karp, CEO, Tumblr
President Obama pledged from his first campaign to fight for a free and open internet, and today he delivered on that promise hugely. The White House has drawn a clear line between strong net neutrality rules under Title II and some of the weaker, more risky approaches the FCC is considering.
David Pashman, general counsel, Meetup
The White House has responded ... with unequivocal support for strong net neutrality rules by using Title II to reclassify consumer broadband services as telecommunications services. Meetup has been working with others in the tech community to advocate for this approach to ensure that the internet continues to remain a strong engine for economic activity and a powerful platform to transform people's lives. We are very thankful for the president's leadership on this issue.
Michael Beckerman, CEO, Internet Association
The Internet Association applauds President Obama's proposal for the adoption of meaningful net neutrality rules that apply to both mobile and fixed broadband. As we have previously said, the FCC must adopt strong, legally sustainable rules that prevent paid prioritization and protect an open internet for users. Using Title II authority, along with the right set of enforceable rules, the president's plan would establish the strong net neutrality protections internet users require.
Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
As we have said for months, reclassification must be combined with a commitment to forbear from imposing aspects of Title II that were originally drafted for 20th-century telephone services and that don't make sense for the internet. While forbearance doesn't set the limits on the regulatory agency in stone, it does require the FCC to make a public commitment that is difficult to reverse. This is an important moment in the fight for the open internet. President Obama has chosen to stand with us: the users, the innovators, the creators who depend on an open internet. But the fight isn't over yet: We still need to persuade the FCC to join him.
Former senator John Sununu and former representative Harold Ford Jr., co-chairs, Broadband for America
Obama's endorsement of 1930s-era Title II classification would lead to unprecedented government interference in the internet and would hurt consumers and innovation ... By vastly expanding the regulatory bureaucracy over the internet, the administration is turning its back on 20 years of bipartisan consensus that has allowed the internet to flourish. The president's approach would threaten millions of jobs and a diverse array of stakeholders, including labor, civil-rights organizations, and tech companies, who have long advocated for a far more restrained approach.
Walter McCormick, president, USTelecom, a lobbying group for the telecommunications industry
The president's call for public utility regulation of the internet, a shift that will redefine the internet, insert[s] the government deeply into its management and invite[s] other countries to do the same ... At a time when broadband providers are operating in conformance with the very open internet principles that the president supports, it is baffling why he would risk continued broadband investment, deployment, economic growth, and job creation by asking the FCC to reverse course on the very successful bipartisan policy that has now been in place for more than a decade.
Scott Belcher, chief executive, Telecommunications Industry Association, an industry lobbying group representing equipment manufacturers
We are deeply concerned over President Obama's endorsement of reclassifying the internet as a Title II utility-like telecom service. Such a move would set the industry back decades, and threaten the private sector investment that is critically needed to ensure that the network can meet surging demand. As manufacturers and suppliers that build the internet backbone and supply the devices and services that ride over it, our companies strongly urge regulators to refrain from reclassification that will guarantee harm to consumers, the economy, and the very technologies we're trying to protect.
Roslyn Layton, fellow, Center for Communication, Media, and Information Technologies at Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark
Title II is not only bad news for the U.S. but for the rest of world. Indeed, foreign authoritarian governments have been looking for justification to monitor networks and users under the guise of net neutrality and the "open internet." Obama's announcement could not be a better present to the leaders of China, Iran, and Russia.
Commissioner Wheeler is expected to issue his final ruling on net neutrality as soon as the end of this year. Given Wheeler's ties to the cable and telecommunications industries, some net neutrality experts theorize he's likely to bend in their direction. On the other hand, given the amount of public outcry on the issue, it's also possible he will take that sentiment into consideration. At the outside, net neutrality may wind up in court again.