12 Nov 2014

Obama wants the internet to be classified as a utility – what this means for the internet and the world.

A war has been raging around the protection or abolition (depending on what side of the fence you sit) of net neutrality. In a previous blog, we discussed that net neutrality is one of the rules that govern Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the US, which states that all data must be treated equally. More practically, this means that ISPs cannot favour one website or internet service over another and that access – including speeds – must be equal across the board.

ISPs in the States have argued that some services such as Netflix, take up a lot more data than everyone else, and they should have to pay more for their end users to access their content.

President Obama released a statement this week, outlining his support for reclassifying the internet as a utility.  “To put these protections in place, I’m asking the FCC to reclassifying internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act,” Obama says in a statement this morning. “In plain English, I’m asking [the FCC] to recognize that for most Americans, the internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

If the FCC did reclassify the internet as a utility, the way water or electricity is classified, it would mean that ISPs could only pump the internet back and forth though the pipes, and would have no control over where it goes or the speeds with which it goes there. As it stands today, ISPs in the US and around a majority of the world are classified as ‘information services’ which cannot be regulated by the FCC. Reclassifying ISPs as utilities would give the FCC far greater control over ISPs.

What does this mean for Australians? As is common in a lot of other areas, a move like this in the US could mean that our government follows suit. The question is – should the internet be classified as a utility?