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Democrats in Congress Propose Bill to Ban “Paid Prioritization”


There are two sides to most stories, and Net Neutrality is no exception. While Internet service providers maintain that companies should pay for the current rise of Internet traffic, many Internet advocates, public figures, and American citizens have indicated that they do not want discrimination online that could hinder innovation and drive up costs for digital content. Although comments opposing the FCC’s proposed fast lanes literally crashed the Commission’s website earlier this month and several public figures have spoken out against the fast lanes, it remains difficult to quantify whether most Americans oppose Net Neutrality – or just the most vocal Americans.

Congressional Democrats seem to think the former. In a press release dated May 14th, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont expressed his reservations about fast lanes; “I have heard from hundreds of Vermonters who have expressed concerns about aspects of Mr. Wheeler’s proposed approach to new net neutrality rules and I share their concerns.” Representative Doris Matsui, of California, shared similar convictions in her own press release; “A free and open Internet is essential for consumers, and to encourage innovation and competition in the Internet ecosystem. Our country cannot afford the ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets.”

The press pages of both Senator Leahy and Representative Matsui stated on June 17th that both Congressmen intend to introduce legislation that would attempt to ban “paid-prioritization” agreements between ISPs and content providers. “The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would help prevent the creation of a two-tiered Internet system, ensuring startups and entrepreneurs have access to a marketplace and ensuring consumers can access all content equally.” The proposed legislation would lend legal clout to Net Neutrality advocates and constitute a considerable win for digital content providers.

In his coverage of the proposed legislation, Brian Fung with The Washington Post reports that the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would fail to attract support from Congressional Republicans – a roadblock perhaps more substantial than ISP opposition, as Republicans currently control the House of Representatives.

Regardless of the bill’s chances of success, the introduction of the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act validates a few recent claims made by Open Internet Advocates. First, the bill indicates the willingness of Congressional leaders to wade into the Net Neutrality debate. In turn, that willingness indicates that those leaders feel substantial pressure from their constituents to oppose the FCC’s latest proposal – and presumably little pressure from fast lane supporters. Third, while the issue has recently garnered a great deal of public attention, the introduction of this bill suggests that the issue could be the topic of many upcoming debated – it could be serious issue for the upcoming Presidential election.


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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.