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Democrats introduce bill prohibiting paid prioritization. Welcome back, net neutrality?

18 June 2014, 8:30 am EDT By Nicole Arce Tech Times
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Sen. Patrick Leahy and Congresswoman Doris Matsui have introduced a new bill that seeks to ban ISPs from charging more for faster delivery speeds, as opposed to the FCC’s current proposal to allow paid prioritization by ISPs.   ( Paul Arps )

Democrat House and Senate members want to enforce the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to do everything in its power to prevent the creation of "fast lanes" where well-heeled content creators pay for high speed priority at the expense of consumers.

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California introduced a new net neutrality bill that hopes to ban paid prioritization agreements between content companies and Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to speed up the delivery of content between the content creator and its consumers.

Dubbed the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, the bill proposes to give the FCC the political authority to see to it that all Internet companies, from bandwidth-gobbler Netflix to ephemeral messaging mobile app Snapchat, be treated equally by ISPs and ensure that startups that don't have a small fortune to ensure speedy delivery of content to their customers have a healthy place to thrive on the Internet.

"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," says Sen. Leahy in a statement.

The bill applies only to the last-mile connection between ISPs and consumers. Under the proposed legislation, ISPs will not be allowed to charge content companies in exchange for speeding up the delivery of their content to their end-users. The current net neutrality proposal by the FCC allows for the creation of a tiered Internet, where ISPs can demand higher fees from companies that want faster delivery speeds to their customers, although FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has opened up public discussion on the hotly debated matter until September 10.

"Our country cannot afford 'pay-for-play' schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets," says Congresswoman Matsui. "The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act will ban paid prioritization and ensure fair competition and consumer choices online. This is essential to the growth of our economy, and the health of our democracy."

The bill, however, does not prevent the creation of peering agreements such as that between video-streaming service Netflix and ISPs Comcast and Verizon, which will directly connect the company to the ISP's network with the goal of improving video quality and traffic.

Advocates of net neutrality are calling for the reclassification of ISPs as public utilities, which would place them under even greater regulation. Leahy and Matsui believe that reclassification will not happen soon, so they turned to a new bill that will ensure that paid prioritization does not happen.

However, the proposed law will most likely see a rough road in Congress, which is dominated by Republicans, who say that any legislation on the regulation of the Internet is harmful to free economy that is a characteristic of the Web.

"Imposing expansive network neutrality regulations would only serve to deter investment and stifle one of the brightest spots in our economy," wrote House Speaker John Boehner in a letter to the FCC, which was signed by other Republican members of the House. 

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