The power of the open Internet was on full display today as President Obama responded to questions from the public in a followup to last week's State of the Union address.
And appropriately, one of the questions was about the president's support for the open Internet itself.
In a live online interview, the president fielded questions on pressing political and economic issues. In the five days since his address, questions were posted and voted on by people visiting YouTube's "CitizenTube." By Monday morning the following question from James Earlywine of Indianapolis stood No. 1 in the "Jobs and the Economy" category:
An open Internet is a powerful engine for economic growth and new jobs. Letting large companies block and filter online content and services would stifle needed growth. What is your commitment to keeping the Internet open and neutral in America?
I campaigned on this. I continue to be a strong supporter of it. My FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has indicated that he shares the view that we've got to keep the Internet open, that we don't want to create a bunch of gateways that prevent somebody who doesn't have a lot of money but has a good idea from being able to start their next YouTube or their next Google on the Internet.
This is something we're committed to. We're getting pushback, obviously, from some of the bigger carriers who would like to be able to charge more fees and extract more money from wealthier customers. But we think that runs counter to the whole spirit of openness that has made the Internet such a powerful engine for not only economic growth, but also for the generation of ideas and creativity.
The crowd-sourced interview was the first one given by the president since his speech. Earlywine's question received more than 1,300 positive votes from others visiting the YouTube site.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear he took my question," said Earlywine, an online marketing expert who is working with eScrapInc to recycle electronic products that would otherwise be put into a landfill. "This business relies upon an open Internet for our continued growth and survival. "
"I really believe in Obama's commitment to saving the Internet for people," Earlywine told me today. "Our nation's laws are intended to protect the weak. But there are a lot of powerful people trying to set the agenda for themselves. Government is supposed to be a counterbalance to that and it's nice to see we have a president who shares those values."
As the FCC prepares to make new rules on Net Neutrality this spring, it's important to hear Obama take a stand. Obama's statement comes on the heels of other prominent public officials expressing their support of Net Neutrality and Internet freedom, including FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"I hope we can do this again," Obama said at the end of the interview. "This gives me great access to all of the people out there with your wonderful ideas. "
It also gives all of us great access to those in power. And isn't that what protecting the open Internet is all about?