Democrats in the U.S. Congress have wasted no time in resurrecting a debate over net neutrality rules, with lawmakers introducing a bill that would ban paid traffic priority agreements between broadband providers and Web content producers.
A day after new members of Congress were seated, Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would require the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to ban paid prioritization agreements. The FCC is preparing to vote on new net neutrality rules in late February, after an appeals court threw out a large portion of the agency's old rules a year ago.
The reintroduced Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act, which failed to pass after Democrats introduced it last year, is designed to prevent broadband providers from creating Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, based on the ability of Web content providers and services to pay for faster speeds, sponsors said.
The primary sponsors of the bill are Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat. Other co-sponsors include six Democratic representatives, three Democratic senators, and independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
"The Internet must be a platform for free expression and innovation, and a place 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 Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would protect consumers and sets out important policy positions that the FCC should adopt."
FCC rules must ensure "there are no tolls, gatekeepers, or a two-tiered Internet system in this country," Matsui added in a statement.
Republicans now hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, and many have voiced opposition to strong net neutrality regulations. While the Democrats' bill is unlikely to pass, it puts political pressure on the FCC to ban paid prioritization. An early proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would have allowed broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management and, in limited cases, sign traffic prioritization deals.
The bill would require the FCC to prohibit paid prioritization agreements on the last-mile Internet connection, the connection between the ISP and the consumer. It would also prohibit broadband providers from prioritizing its own last-mile Internet traffic over the traffic of other companies.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.