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Originally published Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 4:31 PM

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Editorial: Obama right to nudge the FCC on net neutrality

Now is the time for the Federal Communications Commission to flex its regulatory muscle and protect an open Internet.

Seattle Times Editorial

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CANDIDATE Barack Obama, in 2008, promised to preserve an open Internet so that all information flows to consumers at the same speed.

Six years into his presidency, he’s finally taking a strong stance on this concept, known as net neutrality. On Monday, Obama encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

About time.

Regulating broadband as a utility — similar to water and phone service — would protect consumers from the whims of Internet service providers such as Comcast and CenturyLink. The approach also lessens the likelihood a court would knock down the FCC’s efforts to enforce net neutrality rules.

Too bad that, as president, Obama awarded chairmanship of the FCC to a major Democratic fundraiser and former telecom industry lobbyist, Tom Wheeler. Obama appoints the commission’s members.

Wheeler proposed unpopular rules this year that would create a “fast lane” for those content providers that can afford to pay top dollar to get their information to viewers quicker.

Obama is right to nudge the FCC to drop this paid prioritization scheme, which would leave countless content providers (particularly startups) in an Internet “slow lane” if they could not afford to pay premium fees. The five-member FCC — currently split between three Democratic and two Republican appointees — must prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down users’ access to legal content.

The telecom giants claim that government interference stifles innovation. No one should be surprised by their efforts to fight regulation. They have grown accustomed to operating with weak oversight. Just look at how the FCC has failed to protect consumers from the ravages of media consolidation. Federal regulators turn a blind eye as they allow mega-conglomerates to grow and limit the diversity of media owners and the viewpoints Americans watch and read.

Obama now lends his voice to the cause of net neutrality. He cannot ignore the nearly 4 million people who flooded the FCC’s website last summer with comments demanding an open Internet.

He should have taken this issue much more seriously when he had the chance to appoint an FCC chair who would be a stronger independent watchdog for the people.

Instead, we are stuck with a commission with a track record of serving the profit motives of corporations over the interests of citizens.

American democracy is in trouble when information is throttled or controlled by a few. The FCC must reverse this shameful trend.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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