Free Press: Paid Prioritization Equals Artificial Scarcity

Net neutrality group Free Press took aim at paid prioritization in testimony by policy director Matt Wood for a Tuesday (April 17) hearing on the issue in the House Communications Subcommittee.

"As a general matter, prioritizing rather than building capacity to solve sustained congestion would misalign ISP incentives, letting them profit from artificial scarcity rather than encouraging deployment," Wood said, the idea being that it is more cost-efficient to make more money from existing plant than pay for new plant to increase the customer base.

Wood said getting rid of the paid prioritization ban, as the FCC already did in its Dec. 14 vote to roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order, would radically change the internet.

Not only did the ban prevent "unreasonable discrimination by ISPs," he said, it also "preserves the traditional structure of the internet and ISPs’ relationships with their access customers."

Bennett to Hill: Paid Prioritization Does Not Necessarily Mean Degradation

He said the ban on paid prioritization only kept ISPs from favoring traffic in exchange for money or to benefit their own affiliated content, and did not ban user-directed traffic management, like buying faster speed tiers or higher quality of service for apps of a user's choosing. It also did not ban network protocols that make neutral choices without ISPs inspecting traffic or overriding those protocols.

Wood said that while there was academic speculation that new fees would lower sub costs, since ISPs face so little competition--something ISPs dispute--there would be no incentive to lower such costs even if they could.

On the competition issue, ISPs point to the growing speeds and ubiquity of wireless broadband, which is fast becoming the top choice for internet access, to argue there is choice, and thus a reason for offering prioritization as a value-added differentiation among services.

The FCC, under agency chairman Ajit Pai, voted along party lines Dec. 14 to eliminate the rule against paid prioritization, along with the rules against blocking and throttling traffic and a general conduct standard to empower the FCC to regulate internet practices, on a case-by-case basis, that might not be prevented by the rules but that the agency concluded were a threat to net neutrality.

That rule rollback has not yet gone into effect, so all of those prohibitions still apply.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.