Verizon to Leahy: No Plans for Paid Prioritization

"[N]o major broadband provider has ever implemented paid prioritization, most have disavowed any interest in doing so, and no one has even offered a clear business case for paid prioritization," Verizon has told a powerful senator seeking assurances ISPs won't engage in the practice, adding: "As we have said before, and affirm again here, Verizon has no plans to engage in paid prioritization of Internet traffic."

Verizon was responding to a letter Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, sent ISPs last month pressuring them to promise not to create Internet "fast lanes."

The "lane" issue caught fire after FCC chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a "commercially reasonable" standard for a new anti-unreasonable discrimination Open Internet rule, though he has repeatedly pointed out that was a way to craft an anti-discrimination rule that would pass court muster without imposing what ISPs have consistently signaled was the nuclear option of Title II reclassification.

Leahy sent letters to Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and AT&T as well, pressing them for "concrete commitments" not to enter into paid prioritization agreements. A spokesman for Leahy said they would not release them until they had all the responses. AT&T was expected to respond by week's end, while Comcast has already responded, but declined to provide a copy, defering to Leahy on the timing of its being made public.

Verizon said that those pushing for Title II regs on the Internet have "fixated on the phantasm" of paid prioritization despite the fact no provider has ever implemented it. In addition, it told Leahy, "in our view, the FCC has authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Act to presumptively prohibit those forms of paid prioritization the Commission determines are likely to harm competition or consumers."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said the same thing, and signaled he thought anticompetitive paid prioritization would not pass muster under his Sec. 706-based rule proposal.

In the response to Leahy, Verizon executive VP Randal Milch took some space taking aim at Title II and its backers. "Rather than consumer protection, the driving forces behind the push for more regulation are entities seeking regulatory protection for their business plans and digital elites advocating self-serving policies. Many of these voices have consistently, and wrongly, predicted the imminent demise of the Internet for two decades."

"In contrast to the shadows of harms that these groups encourage regulators to chase, the downsides of unnecessary, inflexible regulation are real. The real risk is born by our customers and your constituents – in the forms of less robust and available broadband, higher costs, and fewer jobs – of ill-advised policies in this area."

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.