SANTA MONICA Calif. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama declared himself fully committed to "net neutrality" on Thursday while U.S. regulators review controversial new regulations that would govern how Internet service providers (ISPs) manage traffic on their networks.
The Federal Communications Commission has received a record 3.7 million comments since Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new so-called Open Internet rules in April. Consumer advocacy groups criticized the rules for creating fast and slow "lanes" on the web.
"Net neutrality" refers to the idea that Internet service providers should enable equal access to all content regardless of source.
The proposed rules would ban ISPs from blocking or slowing users' access to websites but allow them to charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of traffic to users.
"I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality," Obama said to applause from a group of company start-up founders in California. "It's what has unleashed the power of the Internet, and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes."
Obama said he was opposed to the idea of paid prioritization, which would allow some to pay more for exclusive access to customers on the web.
Under the proposed rules, ISPs such as Comcast Corp would be prohibited from blocking users' access to websites or applications but could charge content companies, such as Netflix Inc, to ensure quick and reliable delivery of their traffic to users.
Obama acknowledged that the proposed rules had raised concerns among advocates of net neutrality. He noted that the FCC was independent but said Wheeler was aware of his views.
"My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't, now that he's there, I can't just call him up and tell him exactly what to do," Obama said.
"But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine."
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Alina Selyukh; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Ken Wills)