Democrats propose bill to halt “fast lanes” on the internet

Sen. Patrick Leahy

A controversial plan by the FCC to allow “paid prioritization,” which would see big companies pay broadband providers for faster internet delivery, is under fire by Congressional Democrats who will reportedly introduce a bill on Tuesday to stop the proposal.

According to the Washington Post, a law proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), known as the “Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act,” would require the FCC to forbid internet companies from speeding up certain types of content at the expense of others.

In practical terms, this would mean big content companies like NBC and Netflix would not be allowed to cut deals with ISPs like Comcast to ensure their videos stream receive priority over other types of online content.

The idea for “fast lanes,” floated earlier this year by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, has been under fire because it could hurt startups and other small players that don’t have the resources to pay for priority lanes.

Wheeler has defended the idea of fast lanes by saying the FCC would forbid “commercially unreasonable” practices, a vague definition that would likely require expensive legal challenges that are beyond the resources of small companies.

The Democrats’ bill comes three weeks after a Republican Congressman proposed a competing measure that would effectively do the opposite, by barring the FCC from treating broadband as public utility.

Although the proposed bills stand little chance of becoming law given the upcoming mid-term elections, they are providing a way for politicians to stake out positions for a debate over net neutrality that will intensify in the coming months.

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