Leahy asks Comcast to forswear Web ‘fast lanes’

The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Comcast to commit not to place “fast lanes” on the Internet.

While the Federal Communications Commission is still drafting rules for net neutrality, which seek to ban companies like Comcast from blocking or slowing traffic to a particular website, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE (D-Vt.) told the nation’s largest cable company that it should commit to banning special deals to speed up access to some sites.

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“Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system of 'haves' and 'have-nots,' controlled by a small number of corporate gatekeepers, would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history,” Leahy wrote in a letter to Comcast executive David Cohen on Monday.

Leahy and other critics of the FCC’s current proposal for Internet rules have worried they could allow websites to pay Internet service providers to give users faster access to their sites. That would amount to “fast lanes” for those sites and “slow lanes” for everyone else, critics fear.

Many critics want the commission to write strong rules formally banning those deals, known as paid prioritization agreements.

But the country also needs “meaningful pledges” from broadband Internet providers “that they share the American public’s commitment to an Internet that remains open and equally accessible to all,” Leahy wrote to Comcast.

As a condition of the cable company’s 2008 merger with NBC Universal, Comcast is bound to the FCC’s old net neutrality regulations, which were tossed out by a top appeals court earlier this year, until the end of 2018.

Leahy told Comcast that the FCC rules “should be viewed as a minimum level of protection to promote competition online, and Comcast’s commitment to those principles should extend well beyond the imminent cut-off date of 2018.”

The company has previously said that it is not interested in "fast lanes."

Earlier this year, Cohen wrote in a blog post that Comcast “has never offered paid prioritization, we are not offering it today, and we’re not considering entering into any paid prioritization creating fast lane deals with content owners.” 

“Comcast's commitment to a free and open internet has never been stronger,” he added.