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Nipping at Heels of FCC’s Net Neutrality Proceeding, Legislators Introduce Bill Barring ‘Paid Prioritization’




WASHINGTON, June 17, 2014 - Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., on Tuesday introduced a bill, the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, that would grant the Federal Communications Commission the authority to bar so-called “paid prioritization” agreements between internet service providers and content providers over the last-mile of a broadband connection.

Additionally, according to the authors, the bill would prohibit broadband providers from prioritizing or otherwise giving preferential treatment to its own last mile internet traffic or the traffic of its affiliates over the traffic of others.

If passed into law, the FCC would be empowered to take action it deems necessary to prevent such “prioritization” agreements from occurring between ISPs, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, and so-called “edge providers” offering broadband internet services.

Under the bill, broadband provider wouldn't be allowed to speed up Netflix's service at the expense of Amazon Instant Prime; nor would it be able to charge extra fees to particular content providers. ISPs also be barred from prioritizing their own services or devices over competitors.

The legislative gambit appears designed to supersede the FCC's current regulatory efforts to seek public comment on a proposal to bar internet actions that it might deem to be "commercially unreasonable" violations of the principle of network neutrality.

“Americans are speaking loud and clear – they 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,” said Leahy, who plans to hold a field hearing on the issue of net neutrality in Vermont in July. “The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would protect consumers and support a free and open Internet. The Senate should pass this important piece of legislation.”

Matsui said America "a free and open Internet is essential for consumers, and to encourage innovation and competition in the Internet ecosystem. Our country cannot afford 'pay-for-play' schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets."

The bill has already garnered support from net neutrality advocates.

“Instead of waiting for Congress, the FCC can and should choose to classify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service to ensure that creative enterprise can flourish for generations to come," said Casey Rae, vice president for policy and education at the Future of Music Coalition. "Artists and other entrepreneurs demand nothing less than the ability for the next great song, idea or innovation to find its audience, regardless of how that audience connects to the network. The time to act is now.”

Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs at Public Knowledge, added: “This bill sends a clear signal to the FCC that fast lanes and paid prioritization could endanger the internet ecosystem as we know it. The reason we have seen so much financial investment and innovation online is because the playing field for new entrepreneurs is level. As the FCC continues to evaluate new net neutrality rules, it's important they understand that Americans want an internet that everyone can succeed in, not just the companies with enough money to pay a toll to ISPs."

Additional bill sponsors include Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.


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