Dems' plan would force FCC to ban Internet fast lanes

The ban would only affect bandwidth between ISPs and consumers

Democrats in Congress today unveiled a proposal that would force the Federal Communications Commission to create rules banning Internet service providers from offering more bandwidth to content providers that pay more.

The proposed bill -- the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act -- was put forth by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). The legislation would prohibit so-called "fast lanes," which have been a point of contention since the FCC announced it was considering rules that would allow tiered levels of Internet bandwidth for media providers such as Netflix.

Under the guidance of Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC voted last month to establish new net neutrality rules allowing paid prioritization of Internet traffic. At the same time, the FCC opened up a public comment period during which the opposition was widespread.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear," Leahy told the Washington Post. "They 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."

In a statement, Matsui added: "A free and open Internet is essential for consumers, and to encourage innovation and competition in the Internet ecosystem. Our country cannot afford 'pay-for-play' schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets. The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act will ban paid prioritization and ensure fair competition and consumer choices online. This is essential to the growth of our economy, and the health of our democracy."

The ban on fast lanes would affect only the connections between ISPs and consumers, and not ISPs and media providers, but it would effectively eliminate the ability to throttle Internet bandwidth.

Wheeler has said the new rules would preserve net neutrality and wouldn't harm consumers because the FCC wouldn't allow ISPs to slow user connections.

Matt Davis, an IDC broadband analyst, said the FCC's proposed rules allowing bandwidth throttling doesn't affect net neutrality.

"Net neutrality was really focused on the last mile," Davis said, referring to the connection between ISPs and consumers. "Where congestion is happening in the network for Comcast or Verizon is really a peering relationship deeper in the network that doesn't involved the last mile.

"It's like saying your wireless LAN has congestion and then blaming it on broadband providers. It's a different part of the network," he added.

Davis said ISPs aren't necessarily deserving of the bad rap they've been getting in the press and blogosphere, when what they're attempting to do is offer more bandwidth as streaming video traffic has increased dramatically over the past two years.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, which analyzes the growth and use of IP networks worldwide, online video is the fastest growing residential service, with a 9.7% annual growth rate expected through 2018.

Video on demand will be the fastest-growing digital television service, with the number of subscribers increasing from 306 million today to 451 million by 2018, according to Cisco.

"ISPs are saying [to content providers], if you want us to increase bandwidth, at what point do we get paid to increase it?" Davis said.

Next month, Leahy plans to hold a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on net neutrality to examine the impact of open Internet rules on competition and consumers.

This article, Dems propose bill forcing FCC to ban Internet fast lanes, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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