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President Obama came out strongly Monday for the concept of net neutrality, saying that “an open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life.”

In a written statement, Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission to “create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality,” and to ensure that phone and cable companies will not be able “to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.”

The FCC is nearing a decision.

Net neutrality supporters hailed the president’s comments as a victory for Internet users and free speech advocates. Critics, including major corporations and Republican lawmakers, called it an overreaction that will lead to lawsuits, worse service, and higher prices.

Tom Wheeler, the Obama-appointed chairman of the FCC, said that “like the president, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth. We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others.”

Wheeler said the commission would enter Obama’s submission into the record of its proceedings, and would continue to hear “from all stakeholders, including the public (and) members of Congress of both parties.”

In the statement — issued while Obama is in China for an Asian economic summit — the president noted that “the FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone.”

Obama urged an “explicit ban” on “paid prioritization,” agreements in which large content providers pay Internet companies for faster delivery. This involves such profitable, high-traffic sites such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.

He also called for banning the blocking of certain websites and the “throttling” of Internet service.

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