Democratic Legislation May Force FCC To Ban Internet Fast Lanes

  • Internet_Creative
    Different kinds of optical fiber are exhibited at a workshop on board an Alcatel-Lucent ship, after arriving at the Caribbean port of Cartagena on July 29, 2013. Reuters/Jose Miguel Gomez
  • Internet Fast Lanes Leahy
    Senator Patrick Leahy (right) and Democratic colleagues presented a bill called the “Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act.” Reuters
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Democrats in the U.S. Senate and Congress unveiled a new piece of legislation on Tuesday that would mandate the Federal Communications Commission to ban so-called Internet fast lanes.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., presented the bill, titled “Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act,” which will require the FCC to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from establishing paid prioritization agreements, also known as Internet fast lanes, with content providers on the last mile connection between ISPs and consumers. In addition, the ban would also prohibit ISPs from giving preferential treatment to its own traffic and content.

While the bill wouldn’t give the FCC any new powers, it would protect the FCC’s current powers to prohibit ISPs from requiring extra fees for faster Internet access.

In response to the FCC’s proposed Net neutrality rules, Sen. Leahy also plans to hold a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Vermont this July.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear," Leahy said. "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."

“A free and open Internet is essential for consumers, and to encourage innovation and competition in the Internet ecosystem,” Rep. Matsui said. “Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets.”

While the bill may be a step in the right direction for supporters of Net neutrality, there’s some concern on how effective this legislation would be, since it doesn’t grant the FCC any new powers.

Some consumer advocates have suggested that the FCC should reclassify broadband connections as a utility to introduce more regulation for ISPs. But Internet providers have argued that Title II common carrier rules, which regulate traditional telephone lines, only ban “unjust and unreasonable discrimination,” leaving a potential loophole to allow some traffic discrimination or the possibility of an Internet fast lane.

To date, support for and against efforts to regulate broadband has fallen largely along party lines. In May, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced legislation that would prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband under Title II rules.

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