Legislators Offer Bill Requiring FCC to Act on Net Neutrality

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“Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets” says congressional co-sponsor Doris Matsui

Congressional critics charging that the Federal Communications Commission isn’t doing enough to protect the Internet are stepping up their efforts to ban the practice of “paid prioritization,” which could create a two-lane Internet.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, proposed identical legislation Tuesday in the House and the Senate, saying they are worried that a failure of the FCC to act could be detrimental to the Internet, removing one of the central features that has fueled its growth: new players’ ability to fully compete against existing players.

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“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 in a statement.

Matsui said a free and open Internet “is essential for consumers, both 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 legislation, dubbed “The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act,” is drawing support from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., all of whom are cosponsoring the legislation.

Franken offered his own statement of support.

Also read: Sen. Al Franken ‘Skeptical’ of AT&T-DirecTV Deal

“Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally,” he said. “And that’s the way it should be. Since the FCC’s rules for net neutrality were struck down earlier this year, I’ve been fighting hard to make sure that the internet remains an open marketplace where everyone can participate on equal footing. Our bill would be a huge step towards preserving the internet as we know it.”

The legislation comes as the FCC is reviewing its policies on paid prioritization. Consumer groups want the FCC to outright ban paid prioritization, but the FCC’s past efforts to restrict what internet service providers can do have led to court challenges which the agency has lost.

The Writers Guild of America-West praised the legislation on Tuesday.

Also read: Hollywood Needs Net Neutrality, Too (Guest Blog)

“This significant piece of legislation recognizes the Internet must remain free of fast lanes benefitting only large corporations, to the detriment of consumers,” it said in a statement. “Our members support an open Internet.  Allowing Internet Service Providers to divide the Internet into haves and have nots will stifle innovation and the creation of content.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association in a statement suggested the better path would be to let the FCC and Chairman Tom Wheeler act.

“The cable industry has consistently stated our support for sensible but clear rules which ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy an open and unfettered Internet experience.  Cable companies do not engage in paid prioritization and have every incentive to ensure that all consumers enjoy fast and robust Internet services,” said the statement.