President Obama’s call for tougher rules that would treat the Internet like a utility are coming under fire from Republicans, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) likening them to “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Cruz and other Republicans argued Obama’s proposal represents a regulatory power grab that would undermine Internet freedom and raise costs.

{mosads}“‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet,” Cruz said on Twitter Monday morning. “The Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is expected to become the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee next year, added his fear that Obama’s demand “would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle our nation’s dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service.”

“The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate,” he said in a statement after Obama’s announcement.

Major cable and wireless companies also blasted Obama’s proposal, calling such a rule change likely illegal and bad for consumers.

The head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said his group was “stunned” by the president’s suggestion for “the strongest rules possible.”

“[T]his tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results,” Michael Powell warned in a statement.

Meredith Attwell Baker, the head of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said Obama was advocating for “antiquated” rules that would meet stern opposition and “would threaten mobile provider’s [sic] ability to invest and innovate, all to the detriment of consumers.”

Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify broadband Internet service so that it could treat providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. 

The move would give the FCC broad authority over the companies and, supporters say, would ensure that those companies could not slow or block people’s access to particular websites or Internet services.

Obama also said that the regulations should be extended to smartphones and tablets that access the Internet. Such devices were exempt under the FCC’s previous regulations, which earlier this year were tossed out by an appeals court, prompting the agency to begin work on new rules.

“I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online,” he said.

Other Democrats cheered Obama’s statement.

“When the leader of the free world says the Internet should remain free, that’s a game changer,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has urged the FCC to treat Internet service like a utility, said in a statement.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who has introduced legislation that would ban deals in which Internet service providers provide some companies with “fast lanes” for their services, also applauded the move.

“We must ensure that there are no tolls, gatekeepers, or a two-tiered Internet system in this country,” she said.

The FCC’s initial proposal for Internet rules, released earlier this year, would allow Internet providers to create “fast lanes” by striking deals with content companies for more data speed.

The plan generated a record 3.7 million public comments, many opposed to the proposal.

Obama outlined his plan days after reports emerged that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was considered a “hybrid” proposal that would split Internet service into two portions and treat the “back end” service between Internet service companies and individual websites sites under Title II of the law. Service between individual users and Web providers would reportedly not be reclassified.

That plan seemed to please no one, because it would reclassify some portion of the Web but also could allow for companies to selectively speed up some Internet traffic.

After Obama made his plea on Monday, Wheeler indicated that issue was far from settled.

While the FCC head had originally scheduled to release final rules by the end of the year, that now seems far from certain.

“The more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do,” Wheeler said on Monday.

“We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online.”

Tags Barack Obama Federal Communications Commission Federal Communications Commission Net neutrality Ted Cruz

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