Watchdog Cautions FCC Against Sliding Down Slippery 'Paid Prioritization' Slope

The influential watchdog group Center for Democracy & Technology has told the the Federal Communications Commission that allowing companies to pay Internet service providers for prioritized delivery of content would hurt the Web's openness.

"Ensuring that operators do not engage in paid prioritization is fundamental to ensuring that the Internet continues to operate as an open, interconnected platform for commerce, speech, and innovation," the group said Tuesday in a letter filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

In recent weeks, net neutrality advocates, ISPs and policymakers have increasingly focused on "paid prioritization" -- largely because the concept is central to Google and Verizon's joint proposal for neutrality rules. The two companies proposed that ISPs should be prohibited from degrading or prioritizing traffic that currently travels over the so-called public Internet, but allowed to create fast lanes for managed services like telemedicine, distance learning, and new entertainment offerings.



Neutrality advocates generally oppose that plan, arguing that allowing ISPs to create fast lanes would disadvantage innovators and start-ups that can't afford to pay for prioritized delivery.

Last week, AT&T submitted a report to the FCC arguing that paid prioritization already exists online and that the system is "expressly contemplated" by the Internet Engineering Task Force. AT&T alone has hundreds of third-party customers for such services," the company said, adding that these customers include "healthcare providers, community service organizations, restaurant chains, car dealers, electric utilities, banks, municipalities, security/alarm companies, hotels, labor unions, charities, and video-relay service providers.

The CDT's filing on Tuesday was in response to that claim by AT&T. CDT argues that AT&T "mischaracterized" the intent of the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF, and its part in shaping policy. "The IETF and other technical standards bodies play a crucial role in designing the protocols that allow networks and devices to interoperate seamlessly, but it is a mistake to project business and policy decisions, about paid prioritization or any other matter, onto technical standards that make no such claims," the CDT says.

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