Commentary

ISPs Say No Plans For Paid Fast Lanes

Last week, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other large Internet service providers to promise to refrain from offering paid fast lanes on the Web.

“Small business owners that rely on the Internet reach customers, independent content producers who rely on new platforms to gain an audience, and start-up ventures of all sizes have loudly and validly expressed concern that paid prioritization would change the Internet as we know it,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote to Comcast, one of the first ISPs to receive a letter from the lawmaker.

He added that paid fast-lane deals “pose a significant threat of dividing the Internet into those who can afford to compete and those who cannot.”

ISPs' responses are now beginning to trickle out, and so far they say they have no plans to enter into paid prioritization deals.

“We have repeatedly made clear -- both to our customers and more generally to the public -- 'Comcast doesn't prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and we have no plans to do so,'" Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told Leahy in an Oct. 24 letter, Reuters reports.

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Verizon also told Leahy that the company “has no plans to engage in paid prioritization of Internet traffic.”

The telecom added that the “fever pitch over 'paid prioritization' and 'fast lanes' among advocates of greater Internet regulation is just demagoguery since no major ISP has expressed an interest in offering 'paid prioritization' and all agree that the FCC has a valid legal path to prohibit it.”

Likewise, AT&T said in a letter dated Oct. 30 that it doesn't plan to enter into paid prioritization arrangements that would affect the “last mile” of transmissions -- at least not without users' knowledge. Specifically, the company said it doesn't plan to “enter into arrangements with third parties to prioritize traffic over a consumer's last mile broadband Internet connection without the knowledge and direction of the end user.”  (Even though  AT&T says it won't implement paid fast lanes, its carefully worded response leaves open the possibility that it will continue to engage in “interconnection” deals, which don't involve the last mile of traffic. Those arrangements involve content providers like Netflix paying fees to interconnect directly with AT&T's servers.)

AT&T also said in its response that some deals for paid fast lanes would be good for consumers. “AT&T and other broadband providers have long offered services that allow business customers to prioritize performance-sensitive traffic for special handling over their own Internet access connections in case of network congestion,” the company writes. “AT&T believes that, at some point, that type of capability could offer significant benefits ... enabling consumers to choose, for example, a higher quality of service for particular applications like over-the-top health or alarm monitoring.”

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