Hill Prioritizes Review of Pay Delivery

The battle lines between Republicans and Democrats over paid prioritization--and network neutrality rules--were on display Tuesday in the House Energy & Commerce Committee Communications Subcommittee, which was holding an informational hearing on the former, entitled, "From Core to Edge: Perspective on Internet Prioritization."

On one side was Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who talked up efficient and effective prioritization, saying it was crucial form a public policy standpoint. "She pointed to prioritizing voice over data top make sure 911 calls

get through, or audio support for the visually impaired, or autonomous vehicles--that "stop the car for a pedestrian" packet over the kitten on the keys video.

She also cited other prioritization, like paid line-sitters to get seats at Hill hearings, or priority mail.

She said prioritization was neither unique nor uniquely harmful. She also said that rather than simplistic fast-lane/slow lane talking points, there should be more nuanced discussion about what specific harmful conduct a ban on paid prioritization targets, and how to address that while leaving the door open to pro-consumer paid prioritization.

Full House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said that the fast/slow lane analogy missed the point that that the internet was a network of networks, with many layers and many players.

Walden said that prioritization exists today--edge providers pay for interconnections with ISPs and content delivery networks bypass the public internet--and is necessary for the proper functioning of the internet

On the other side were subcommittee ranking member Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and full committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Doyle said the hearing had been prompted by the fallout of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's ill-advised elimination of the rule against paid prioritization and other net neutrality rules. He called that a short-sighted act that left an uncertain landscape of access being taxed, tolled or blocked by ISPs.

He said the FCC was adding an anti-consumer chapter to its history and that he did not buy ISP's arguments that they needed prioritization to handle the anticipated flood of data--from the internet of everything. He said that giving ISPs the ability to play gatekeeper only benefited them and their shareholders.

The difference between the two sides is also illustrated in different bills they have championed. While Blackburn has introduced a bill to restore FCC rules against blocking and throttling, but not paid prioritization, Doyle has sponsored a Congressional Review Act to nullify the FCC's rollback of rules against all those.

Pallone said the strength of the internet is rooted in preventing ISPs from picking winners or losers by offering fast and slow lanes. He suggested that while ISPs once talked about never planning to do paid prioritization, they now want loopholes that would monetize providing a faster net for a chosen few.

“The topic of today’s hearing is yet another reminder of the need for comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to protect an open and free Internet,” said Rob Tappan, of Broadband for America. “The issue of net neutrality applies to everyone, and has broad implications for technology, innovation, broadband infrastructure and our nation’s economy.”

“As last week’s Facebook hearings demonstrated, there are many stakeholders in this ongoing debate – from edge providers to Internet Service Providers, and most importantly, consumers. Internet privacy, along with the four central tenets of net neutrality — no throttling, no blocking, no unfair discrimination and transparency — all need to be addressed in comprehensive legislation so that there is 21st century regulation for a 21st century internet,” Tappan said.

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.