Leahy Seeks No Fast-Lane Pledges from ISPs

Senator Sends Letters Seeking Various Promises

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, wants Internet service providers to take the pledge. He is pressuring them to promise not to create Internet "fast lanes."

The "lane" issue caught fire after FCC chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a "commercially reasonable" standard for a new anti-unreasonable discrimination Open Internet rule, though he has repeatedly pointed out that was a way to  craft an anti-discrimination rule that would pass court muster in court without imposing what ISP's have consistently signaled was the nuclear option of Title II reclassification.

That option remains on the table, Wheeler has said.

Leahy this week sent letters to the top ISPs -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, AT&T and Verizon -- pressing them for "concrete commitments" not to enter into paid prioritization agreements "charging web sites for priority access over the Internet."

At a net neutrality field hearing in Vermont in July, Leahy said paid priority must not be allowed and he could support no FCC approach short of a flat out ban.

He also wants a promise from ISPs “not to engage in any activity that prioritizes affiliated content or services over unaffiliated content or services, helping to ensure that vertical integration does not threaten competition online."

Comcast is already subject to such restrictions per the NBCU deal conditions, and Time Warner Cable systems would be subject to them as well through 2017 and likely beyond if the FCC approves their proposed merger.

“Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ controlled by a small number of corporate gatekeepers, would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history,” Leahy wrote in the letters."

Wheeler has said much the same thing in pointed out that Title II is still on the table, but that even under a Sec. 706 regime, anticompetitive paid prioritization that led to fast and slow lanes would be a nonstarter.

Critics are concerned that a future FCC, left to decide what was and wasn't commercially reasonable, might make another call, and that without a flat prohibition, it would be tough to address violations after the fact through a process of identifying and challenging such practices.

Leahy has teamed up with Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) to sponsor a bill that would ban paid prioritization, but legislation of any type is a long-shot to no shot proposition in a divided Congress trying to get itself reelected.

At press time, Comcast was working on a reponse that could be ready by today--it was the first to receive a Leahy letter. AT&T and TWC had no comment, but said they would be responding to Leahy.