Leahy asks big Web companies to pledge against ‘fast lanes’

Four top Internet service providers are receiving letters from Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vt.) on Thursday asking them to pledge not to create “fast lanes” on the Internet.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is “gravely concerned” about the possibility that the Federal Communications Commission will allow companies to cut deals with websites so users have faster access to their sites. That would amount to a “fast lane” for them and “slow lanes” for everyone else, he warned. 

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Even if the FCC’s new rules allow for that possibility, Leahy wants the companies to make a commitment on their own not to engage in the practice, technically known as paid prioritization.

“If the Internet is to remain an open, accessible platform for the free flow of ideas, we need strong rules of the road in place to guarantee those protections,” he wrote.

“We also need meaningful pledges from our nation’s broadband providers that they share the American public’s commitment to an Internet that remains open and equally accessible to all.”

The four letters went out to AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

They come just days after Leahy sent a nearly identical letter to Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, which is asking regulators to approve its $45 billion proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. Charter looks to gain more than 1 million new customers as part of the terms of that deal.

AT&T also may want to stay on lawmakers' good side, since it too is seeking regulatory approval for its $49 billion purchase of DirecTV.

All four companies have previously said they have no plans to give faster service to one set of users over another, but Leahy wants a formal commitment.