Paid Priority-Banning Bill Draws a Crowd

Computer companies and others were quick to praise a congressional effort to ban paid prioritization, while cable operators suggested the FCC had it under control.

Following the introduction of the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act Tuesday in both the House and Senate, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in a statement that it supports the FCC's new rules and is not prioritizing anyway.

“The cable industry has consistently stated our support for sensible but clear rules which ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy an open and unfettered Internet experience," NCTA said. "Cable companies do not engage in paid prioritization and have every incentive to ensure that all consumers enjoy fast and robust Internet services. We are confident that Chairman Wheeler can restore effective rules under the path that the Court suggested, and we will work with all parties to preserve consumer protections enforced by the FCC and Federal Trade Commission.”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association was all for the bill, praising its focus on the last mile connection, but also using that as a jumping-off point to criticize paid peering.

"Congresswoman Matsui and Senator Leahy have prudently focused their legislation on the problems arising from the power which Internet access providers have to arbitrarily charge edge providers for priority local or 'last mile' delivery capacity," CCIA resident Ed Black said in a statement, then turned it to the issue of middle mile and payments for interconnection hand-offs.

“Chairman Wheeler is also wise to launch an inquiry into the reasons for Internet congestion and the disputes between Internet access providers and online content services that lead to degraded consumer experiences. Greater transparency is needed regarding new developments in this area," he said. “It is important that the economic incentives surrounding Internet activity not evolve in a way that rewards scarcity and those who fail to build out capacity to meet their subscribers and customers’ needs. Internet access providers should not be able to profit from any congestion or scarcity they may allow to occur."

Wheeler last week announced the FCC would take a deep dive into paid peering and its impact on consumers. He said the FCC already had copies of the deals between Netflix and Comcast and Verizon, and would be seeking more info.

Public Knowledge was all for the bill.

"This bill sends a clear signal to the FCC that fast lanes and paid prioritization could endanger the internet ecosystem as we know it," said Chris Lewis, VP of government affair. "The reason we have seen so much financial investment and innovation online is because the playing field for new entrepreneurs is level. As the FCC continues to evaluate new net neutrality rules, it's important they understand that Americans want an Internet that everyone can succeed in, not just the companies with enough money to pay a toll to ISPs."

Perhaps recognizing that the bill is a long shot at becoming law, Free Press remains focused on pushing the FCC to reclassify broadband as a Title II service as a way to prevent "Internet payola."

"The best way to stop paid prioritization and protect real Net Neutrality is for the FCC to reclassify broadband service providers as common carriers, and they should move swiftly to do so," said Free Press Action Fund associate policy director Chancellor Williams. "But we’re pleased that members of Congress are speaking out against the dangerous practice of paid prioritization. Representative Matsui and Senator Leahy are trying to solve the serious problems posed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s current proposal, which would pave the way to a pay-to-play Internet."

Wheeler has insisted it will do nothing of the sort, but would instead be a legally sustainable way to restore the FCC's no unreasonable discrimination rule remanded by the court.

The Writers Guild of America West is another fan of the bill. "This significant piece of legislation recognizes the Internet must remain free of fast lanes benefitting only large corporations, to the detriment of consumers," said the guild. "Our members, the writers of television, online programming, film, and news, support an open Internet allowing Americans to access legal content on the device of their choosing, whether that be their television, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Allowing Internet Service Providers to divide the Internet into haves and have nots will stifle innovation and the creation of content."

The guilds have seen the Internet as a new outlet for the creative content they argue is getting harder to place on consolidated traditional media with their own, co-owned content production arms.

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.