Obama pans internet fast lanes, as calls increase to treat broadband as “public utility”

President Obama waded back into the net neutrality debate on Thursday while speaking at a tech event in Los Angeles.

“We expect whatever final rules emerge to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of internet,” said the President at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, repeating a position he took in August against the FCC’s proposal for so-called “fast lanes” for the internet, which would allow certain websites to pay ISP’s to receive preferential treatment.

Obama added that the FCC, which is in the process of preparing new rules for the internet, is an independent agency that has the power to make its own decision, but also said that the White House has been clear about what it wants chairman Tom Wheeler to do.

The President was an ardent supporter of net neutrality — the idea that all ISP’s should not be able to favor one type of internet traffic over another — at the time of his election, and appears to still hold that position.

“I think it is what has unleashed the power of the internet, and you don’t want to lose that or clog the pipes,” he saidin LA.

Despite the President’s remarks, and what seems to be overwhelming public support for net neutrality, most Washington insiders doubt that the FCC will actually impose it.

The agency is currently in a difficult position since the only way for it to enforce net neutrality is through a legal provision known as “Title II,” which would reclassify broadband providers as public utilities. The move to use Title II has gained traction in recent weeks, as senior politicians like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca) have floated “hybrid” proposals that suggest how the FCC could use Title II as one part of its final set of rules, which are likely to appear after the midterm elections.

The cable industry, however, has signaled it will make Wheeler’s life miserable if he attempts to go the Title II route. Meanwhile, as ProPublica reports, the industry also appears to be funding a grassroots campaign on city streets to channel opposition to a net neutrality law.

While the White House appears to be providing Wheeler with some political cover, the Chairman still faces an uphill battle since the cable industry wields far more money and lobbying clout than the fast lane opponents.