Dems release bill to block Web ‘fast lanes’

 

Congressional Democrats want to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from allowing Internet companies to speed up service for users who pay more.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced a bill on Tuesday that requires the FCC to block the potential deals, which some have worried could lead to “fast lanes” for websites that pay big fees and slower service for everyone else. 

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“Americans are speaking loud and clear — they want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider,” Leahy said in a statement.

“If the FCC clears the way for pay-to-play deals, whole swaths of the Internet could become functionally inaccessible to the customers of certain Internet providers,” he added. “This is not the Internet we know today, and we must act to ensure that it does not come to pass.”

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and its technology subpanel, signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, as did Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

The bill, called the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, would require the FCC to write rules banning “paid prioritization” deals, which would be allowed under a hotly contested current FCC proposal.

Under that plan from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, companies like Verizon or Comcast could be able to speed up traffic for users of websites like YouTube or Netflix as long as the deals were “commercially reasonable.” 

Democrats have blasted the idea, which they warn would undermine the spirit of net neutrality, the notion that all traffic online should be treated equally.

Republicans have also been resistant to the plan. They contend that the government has no business regulating the Internet and ought not to get involved.

The Democrats’ new bill would only prevent deals to speed up traffic on the so-called “last mile” of Internet connection, not “interconnection” deals like the ones Netflix recently signed with Internet service providers to bypass traditional middlemen and boost subscribers’ video quality. Wheeler has said that those deals are a different issue, though the commission is collecting information about whether it needs to get involved there as well. 

The FCC began work on new regulations after a top appeals court threw out its existing rules earlier this year.