A New Pay-for-Playbook

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Washington — Paid prioritization has gotten a bad rap, but the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation is trying to change that, including by looping the Federal Communications Commission back into the network-neutrality regulatory regime.

Paid prioritization has been branded as pay for play, and as fast and slow lanes, by net neutrality activists who oppose that practice. But in a new report, ITIF, whose honorary chairs include both Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is trying to burnish the brand and head off a push in Congress to include paid prioritization in new net-neutrality prohibitions.

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Some ISPs have even suggested they would accept a no paid prioritization provision, though most throw in the caveat “anti-competitive.”

Even activists concede there is a need to prioritize, say, 911 VoIP calls over cat videos. But there would almost certainly be a carveout for that, or explicit language that emergency calls or telehealth video — remote accident-scene triage, for example — would be reasonable network management.

ITIF wants to make sure that is clear, but it also is suggesting getting the FCC back in the broadband oversight business, though not via Title II.

The FCC deeded net neutrality oversight to the Federal Trade Commission when it took ISPs out from under Title II.

ITIF is telling Congress that the FCC should oversee prioritization agreements and that, in legislation, Congress could prohibit exclusive differentiation deals and require that prioritization be offered on similar terms and conditions.

A non-neutral network “can unlock new, real-time services without harming general best-effort traffic and preventing any potential anticompetitive consequences,” ITIF argues.

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