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New 'Net Neutrality' Bill Good Step, But Not Enough, say Internet Advocates

Open Internet groups continue to push for reclassification of broadband to deter 'pay-for-play' web

Demonstrators marched to the FCC calling for them to uphold the principle of net neutrality. (Photo: Free Press/ cc/ Flickr)

A new bill banning "fast lanes" on the Internet was unveiled in both the Senate and House on Tuesday.

The bill, dubbed the the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Representative Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

"Americans [...] 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 press statement.

"Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets," added Matsui.

However, consumer groups and advocates of net neutrality are skeptical that the legislation will go far enough to limit efforts by corporate telecom companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to create a "two-tiered" Internet by offering faster service to those who can afford the fee.

The legislation does not grant the Federal Communications Commission any new regulatory powers. Rather, it directs the agency to "rely on its current authorities" to prevent Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) from providing paid prioritization for certain types of content.


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Calling the bill "a step in the right direction," Timothy Karr, senior director at Free Press, told Common Dreams that the group is pleased that members of Congress are taking a stand against the "dangerous practice of prioritization."

However, Karr said that the best way to "protect real net neutrality" is for the FCC to reclassify broadband services as common carriers. Such a move would subject ISPs to greater regulation, much like a utility. "The FCC should move swiftly to do this," Karr added.

According to the senator's office, the legislation would require the FCC to "prohibit paid prioritization agreements between Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) and content providers on the last mile Internet connection, the connection between the ISP and the consumer." Further, it 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."

The proposal comes as the FCC weighs a new plan put forth by current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that would grant major ISPs the ability to give preferential treatment to certain content.

The FCC is currently accepting public comment on their proposed rule.


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