Obama promises to promote net neutrality, broadband

Obama also called for a new package of cybersecurity legislation in his State of the Union speech

U.S. President Barack Obama promised to push for net neutrality rules and for more transparency in the government's surveillance programs during his State of the Union address late Tuesday.

In a speech largely focused on the U.S. economy and aiding the middle class, Obama also promised to push for the deployment of next generation broadband networks, as he outlined in a preview to the State of the Union a week ago. The president has called on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to pass strong net neutrality rules and to roll back state limits on municipal broadband projects.

"I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world," Obama said in his annual speech before the U.S. Congress.

He also called for a new package of cybersecurity legislation, including legal protections for businesses that share cyberthreat information with the government, with details announced earlier this month. His proposal to criminalize violations of terms of service in computer and software products has led to concerns from white-hat hackers.

"No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids," he said Tuesday night. "We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyberthreats, just as we have done to combat terrorism."

Congress must "finally pass" legislation to combat cyberattacks and identity theft, he said. "If we don't act, we'll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable," Obama added. "If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe."

Earlier this month, Obama called for Congress to pass a consumer privacy bill of rights and a law requiring businesses with data breaches to report them to affected customers within 30 days.

On the U.S. government's controversial surveillance programs, Obama said the U.S. must uphold its commitment to civil liberties "if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks."

He promised a new report on surveillance programs and privacy next month. "While some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven't," he said. "As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse."

Obama also noted that his administration has worked to protect "human dignity" and privacy, including during the use of surveillance drones. His administration has "worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," he said.

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, giving the Republican response to the State of the Union, largely criticized Obama's foreign policy without addressing most of his tech-related proposals. However, Republicans will "advance solutions to prevent the kind of cyberattacks we've seen recently," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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