Leahy Pushes ISPs To Swear Off Fast Lanes

Broadband providers have “disappointed” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) by refusing to promise to avoid creating paid online fast lanes. "An Internet that is split into the 'haves' and 'have-nots' is unacceptable," Leahy said in a statement issued late last week. “That is why the FCC should enact clear and enforceable rules to prevent 'paid prioritization' agreements that would allow some content providers to out-bid smaller competitors to gain fast-lane service to customers online.”

The statement marks a continuation of Leahy's efforts to extract no-fast-lane promises from Internet service providers.

At the end of October, Leahy had asked Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Charter to vow to refrain from forging fast-lane deals with content companies. The companies all responded that they don't now engage in paid prioritization, or have plans to do so.



Verizon, for instance, wrote: “No major broadband provider has ever implemented paid prioritization, most have disavowed any interest in doing so, and no one has even offered a clear business case for paid prioritization. As we have said before, and affirm again here, Verizon has no plans to engage in paid prioritization of Internet traffic.”

But as Leahy pointed out, all of the companies left their future options open.

“What they did not do was answer my call for a firm commitment that they will never engage in that behavior in the absence of clear rules prohibiting such deals,” he stated.

This is disappointing,” he added. “It is unfortunate that these companies were unwilling to make that commitment -- presumably because they know that if fast lanes are allowed in the future, market forces may drive them and other ISPs to consider such deals to maximize profits at the expense of competition online.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission is still weighing whether to reclassify broadband service as a utility, which would set the stage for new net neutrality rules that would ban paid fast lanes.

Many observers, including President Barack Obama, have urged the FCC to do so. Around 3.9 million people weighed in on net neutrality by submitting comments to the FCC; many of those commenters urged the agency to impose the kinds of rules that would ban paid fast lanes. Broadband providers, on the other hand, say they will fight any attempt to regulate them like utility companies.

The FCC is expected to take up the question again next year.

For his part, Leahy says he intends to push ISPs “to listen to their customers and pledge to never engage in paid prioritization.”

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