House Dems, GOP clash over internet ‘fast lanes’
House Democrats and Republicans are clashing over internet “fast lanes,” a major sticking point for the two sides in the battle over net neutrality.
Since the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturned the Obama-era net neutrality rules in December, Republicans in Congress have been calling for legislation to replace the regulations that would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge websites for better delivery to internet users.
Democrats argue that opening the door to paid prioritization will give companies like Verizon and Comcast the ability and incentive to give unfair advantages to certain sites while hurting internet startups.
“Where there was once agreement on a prohibition on fast lanes, some now want to add loopholes to net neutrality,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said at a Tuesday hearing on the issue.
“The reasoning is convoluted and confusing — they argue that somehow allowing broadband providers to charge small companies extra for internet fast lanes is good for small business,” Pallone continued. ”But that makes no sense and no one is buying it.”
But the GOP says that a prohibition on paid prioritization, like the one included in the FCC’s recently-repealed net neutrality rules, inhibits the flow of data. Members like House Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) accuse Democrats of obscuring the issue.
“In a basic sense, prioritization has nothing to do with traffic speed, but rather it’s putting certain bits over others to ensure that all packets arrive at their destination on time,” Walden said at the hearing. “A complete ban on prioritization would not permit this, and would not allow some services and applications to operate smoothly.”
Paid prioritization has been a sticking point for net neutrality supporters as Republicans push to codify some net neutrality provisions into law in order to eliminate some of the uncertainty in the telecom industry that rules will shift with every new administration.
Bills offered by Republicans in the House and Senate would make it illegal for internet service providers to block or discriminate against certain websites but would leave open the potential for them to create internet fast lanes by charging sites for faster service or prioritizing their own affiliates over competitors.
Net neutrality supporters say such a loophole is a nonstarter, and Democrats seem content to let a court challenge to the FCC repeal play out before they come to the negotiating table. They’re also pushing their own House and Senate bills that would void the December FCC vote and leave the Obama-era rules intact.
“The truth is giving ISPs the ability to play gatekeeper only benefits the ISPs and their shareholders and it significantly hurts innovators and consumers,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said at Tuesday’s hearing.