Ahead of FCC vote, Dems revive net neutrality bill

A pair of congressional Democrats is bringing back legislation to ban “fast lanes” on the Internet, weeks before federal regulators weigh in.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) are introducing the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act on Wednesday, as one of the first acts in the new Congress.

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The bill would prevent Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable from charging websites like Netflix more money for faster service. Charging sites for quicker access to users — a practice formally known as “paid prioritization” — would lead to fast lanes for big companies on the Internet and “slow lanes” for everyone else, critics fear.

“The Internet must be a platform for free expression and innovation, and a place where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider,” said Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

The pair of lawmakers introduced the bill last year and won over slightly more than a dozen co-sponsors split between both chambers. It failed to make any progress in either the House or Senate, however.

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to meet to vote on new net neutrality regulations on Feb. 26. The rules have not yet been disclosed to the public, but many watchers suspect they will be stronger than a proposal released last year that would have allowed fast lanes on the Web. 

In recent weeks, calls have been increasing for the FCC to reclassify Internet service so that it can be regulated under the same rules that govern utilities like telephone service. Reclassifying the Web or some parts of it would not necessarily ban all fast lane deals, however.

The bill from Leahy and Matsui does not call for those utility-style rules for the Web.

The potential that the FCC would reclassify the Internet as a utility has sparked concern among congressional Republicans, who fear it would lead to government control of the Web. In response, some GOP lawmakers have begun talks about legislation of their own, though their work is still in the early stages.