Feb 22, 2019 | Updated: 08:52 AM EST

How Obama Plans to Revolutionize the Internet—State of the Union Address

Jan 20, 2015 07:15 PM EST


Tonight, President Obama will take the stage to give his annual State of the Union address before Congress and the rest of the country, laying out where we are and his agenda for the coming year.  So far, we know that he plans to roll out new tax reform plans and even free community college tuition for students all over the country.

But alongside these proposals, the president will be putting forward programs that could change the Internet as we know it.  These initiatives are designed to expand access to the Internet, protect net neutrality and even include dangerous tools in the fight against cyberterrorism. 

Broadband Plans

Obama has already released his new vision for broadband, which includes new federal programs for training, technical support, loans and more to underserved areas.  What has gotten the most attention, however, is his wish to modify 19 state laws that make building municipal networks harder.  The most recent list actually cites 21 state rules and includes a half-dozen direct bans, as well as stipulations on community networks that could put them at a disadvantage to commercial cable companies.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says that given the opportunity, the agency would act to "preempt" these laws.  While this hasn't happened yet, it could be coming.  Next month the FCC is set to respond from petitions from municipal broadband groups in Chattanooga and Wilson, NC.

ISPs have lobbied for these rules stating that local government-funded networks are risky and inefficient.  US Telecom president Walter McCormick warned that Obama's plans "call for the federal government to regulate the Internet, and for municipal governments to own the Internet.  If the FCC follows Obama's advice, lawsuits are expected to follow rather quickly.

Net Neutrality

Obama has already come out in support of policy changes when it comes to net neutrality, urging the FCC to reclassify broadband from an "information service" to a more heavily regulated "telecommunications service" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.  FCC chair Tom Wheeler has already announced that a new changes have been circulated and will be voted on next month.  While there isn't much more Obama can do, he may mention net neutrality in a last-ditch effort to drum up support for his request.


After the fiasco at Sony Pictures and other retail breaches with large stores like Target and Staples, cybersecurity has begun to gain real momentum in 2015.  Obama is expected to highlight his desire to build new systems for better "information sharing" between companies about threats. 

While this sounds great politically, the benefit to cybersecurity is debatable at best.  Many of the tools used for the hacks of Sony and Target, for example, weren't anything new and were the results of internal security failures.  Many doubt the efficacy of an information sharing federal program in the wake of these types of hacks.

Data Privacy

Over the last year there has been a dramatic increase in card breaches across the country.  Obama plans to ask Congress to give companies firmer rules about when they must notify customers about these hacks and wants to criminalize "illicit overseas trade in identities."

Obama is also reviewing a revised draft of a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" for Congress to consider, and he plans to ask for a bill that will limit how education companies can use data from students.

Anti-hacking Laws

Obama has already expressed his desire to revise the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is one of the most hated laws in the tech world.  The law was intended to provide an easy way for prosecutors to press charges against digital hackers, but since its adoption, has been criticized as overly vague and far too broad. 

Unfortunately the early draft that was released last week raises penalties, but also broadens much of the language, even further making even the mildest security research a felony.

"Internet innovation happens by trying things first then asking for permission later" technology researcher, Robert Graham says. "Obama's law will change that. If the net effect is less independent research, then we'll all be left with more easily hacked software, making everyone less safe."

That is all that has been released so far that could be included in the speech.  However, there is always a chance the president will throw in more than what is expected, or even expand deeper into the plans that he has already announced.

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