Dem. Lawmakers Take Aim At Online Fast Lanes

Democratic lawmakers today unveiled a Net neutrality bill that aims to prevent pay-for-play agreements between Internet service providers and content companies like Netflix or Amazon.

The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui, (D-Calif.), directs the Federal Communications Commission to prohibit ISPs from charging companies extra fees to ensure their material is delivered at fast speeds.

Leahy said Tuesday in a statement that the bill will promote an open Internet and protect consumers. “Americans ... 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,” he stated.  Co-sponsors are Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

The prospect of Internet fast lanes has been in the news since April, when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed to pass new broadband regulations that would prohibit carriers from blocking content, but would allow them to charge companies for prioritized delivery.

Wheeler insists his suggested regulations will reinstate the “concepts” of the open Internet rules that were passed in 2010, but invalidated by a court earlier this year. But there's a big difference between the version passed four years ago and Wheeler's proposal: The old rules prohibited wireline providers from charging extra for fast-lane service.

Many consumer advocates take issue with Wheeler's proposed regulations, arguing that allowing fast lanes would disadvantage start-ups, nonprofits and other groups that don't have enough money to pay extra tolls. Instead, advocates say, the FCC should reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service, subject to the same common carrier rules that require telephone companies to put through all calls without discrimination.

"The best way to stop paid prioritization and protect real Net Neutrality is for the FCC to reclassify broadband service providers as common carriers,” Free Press's Chancellar Williams said today in a statement. “But we’re pleased that members of Congress are speaking out against the dangerous practice of paid prioritization.”

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