A top senator is urging Comcast to swear off Internet fast lanes, even if the telecommunications company's merger with Time Warner Cable is struck down by antitrust regulators.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), an outspoken proponent of net neutrality, sent a letter to the largest U.S. cable and Internet service provider imploring Comcast to take a vow to always offer the best available Internet speeds to all users.
"Small business owners that rely on the Internet to reach customers, independent content producers who rely on new platforms to gain an audience, and startup ventures of all sizes have loudly and validly expressed concern that paid prioritization online would change the Internet as we know it," stated Leahy in the letter addressed to David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast.
Leahy says splintering the Internet into a system of "haves and have-nots" would dismantle one of mankind's most monumental innovations.
Comcast is legally bound by the FCC's previous rules on net neutrality until 2018, as part of the terms the telecommunications company agreed on when it merged with NBC Universal in 2011. The Vermont senator is urging Comcast to pledge it will continue following similar rules indefinitely, regardless of what regulators decide on the company's proposed merger with Time Warner. Comcast also has said it would extend those rules to Time Warner customers if the merger is approved. The merger proposal is being evaluated by the FCC and the Justice Department's antitrust division.
"As the antitrust regulators continue to evaluate Comcast's proposed transaction with Time Warner Cable, and regardless of whether it is approved, I ask Comcast to pledge that it will not engage in paid prioritization," Leahy wrote. "I also ask that Comcast pledge not to engage in any activity that prioritizes affiliated content or services over unaffiliated content or services, helping to ensure that vertical integration does not threaten competition online. Making these pledges will go a long way to ensuring that the Internet as we know it will remain open, vibrant, and competitive."
The Vermont Democrat opened a net neutrality forum in July, seeking to encourage public dialog on the net neutrality debate. The forum, held at the University of Vermont, featured a former FCC commissioner and other influential names in the telecommunications sector, and testimony generally concluded that a free and open Internet is in the best interest of innovation and industry.
"It has always been and remains today a core value of libraries to preserve the free flow of information," said Vermont State Librarian Martha Reid at the forum (PDF). "It doesn't matter whether that information comes in print or audio-visual or digital format. Intellectual freedom -- the right of citizens to have access to information, including that which may be controversial -- is a hallmark of our democracy and of libraries."