US lawmakers introduce bill banning paid prioritization online

The bill from a group of Democratic lawmakers would prohibit preferential traffic management in the last mile

A group of U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit broadband providers from charging Web content generators for priority traffic management.

The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, introduced Tuesday by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Doris Matsui of California, along with three other Democrats, would ban broadband providers from collecting fees from websites and online services for preferential traffic handling. The bill is an effort to get out front of a contentious debate about net neutrality rules.

In April, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced an effort to reinstate net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court threw out an old version of the regulations in January. But Wheeler's approach of allowing broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management, and -- in some cases, possibly allowing paid prioritization -- has prompted an outcry from Internet users.

In the past month, the FCC's net neutrality proceeding has generated more than 120,000 public comments, with many people calling on the agency to regulate broadband like a utility and require that broadband providers treat all traffic equally.

The bill would prevent the "creation of a two-tiered Internet system," the lawmakers said in a press release.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear -- 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," Leahy said in a statement.

The bill is needed to encourage innovation and competition on the Internet, Matsui added. "Our country cannot afford 'pay-for-play' schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets," she added in a statement. "This is essential to the growth of our economy, and the health of our democracy."

In mid-May, the FCC released a net neutrality proposal including Wheeler's ideas, but also asking if the agency should reclassify broadband as a regulated utility. The proposal asks for public comment on whether paid prioritization should be banned.

The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would require the FCC to prohibit paid prioritization agreements between ISPs and content providers on the last-mile Internet connection, and it would prohibit broadband providers from giving preferential treatment to its own last-mile Internet traffic or the traffic of its affiliates over the traffic of competitors.

The bill faces tough odds in the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority has opposed net neutrality rules. With mid-term congressional elections coming in November, it may be difficult to get any controversial legislation passed this year.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationTom WheelerU.S. CongresslegislationgovernmentDoris MatsuiinternetPatrick LeahyInternet service providersbroadband

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