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Democrats Leahy, Matsui Move to Ban Paid Prioritization Through Net Neutrality Legislation

Lawmakers in Congress have reintroduced bicameral legislation that would essentially ban the type of agreements that public advocacy groups fret would create fast and slow lanes on the Internet.

Democrats reintroduced a bill that essentially would ban the type of agreements that public advocacy groups fret would create fast and slow lanes on the Internet.The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would require the Federal Communications Commission to ban so-called paid prioritization agreements between a broadband Internet provider and content provider such as Amazon and Netflix. Some consumer advocacy groups have expressed fear that ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon will negotiate agreements that grant content providers speedy access to consumers, or other types of preferential treatment, but leave other websites and Internet services at a disadvantage.

Two Democrats, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Doris Matsui of California, reintroduced the bicameral legislation last week ahead of the FCC’s adoption of Internet or so-called Net neutrality regulations. A number of Democrats in the House and Senate have co-sponsored the legislation. The FCC is expected to vote next month on the Internet regulations.

“The Internet must be a platform for free expression and innovation, and a place where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider,” said Leahy, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. “The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would protect consumers and sets out important policy positions that the FCC should adopt in its current consideration of open Internet rules.”

The legislation would require the FCC to use its current authority to prohibit paid prioritization agreements that govern the last-mile connection between the ISP and the consumer. Broadband providers also would be precluded from giving preferential treatment to its own or its affiliates’ last-mile Internet traffic.

The legislation was introduced the same day FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly announced his plans at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to reclassify Internet access under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Large ISPs oppose the move to Title II because they say it would be burdensome and unnecessary to protect consumers. But consumer advocacy groups including Free Press favor Title II regulation.

“Chairman Wheeler appears to have heard the demands of the millions of Internet users who have called for real Net Neutrality protections,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “The FCC’s past decisions to put its oversight authority on ice resulted in Net Neutrality being under constant threat. Wheeler now realizes that it’s best to simply follow the law Congress wrote and ignore the bogus claims of the biggest phone and cable companies and their well-financed front groups.”


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