The bicameral bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Doris Matsui of
California comes as the Federal Communications Commission is
collecting public comments on new "net neutrality" rules.
The FCC's proposed rules, up for public comment until September
10, prohibit Internet providers from blocking or slowing down
access to websites but may let them charge content companies to
prioritize their traffic as long as such deals are deemed
The proposal, however, also seeks comment on whether all or some
such pay-for-priority deals should also be banned.
Leahy's and Matsui's bill would require the FCC to prohibit such
agreements for paid prioritization on the so-called "last mile,"
the part of the network that goes from the Internet service
providers to the consumer.
"Americans are speaking loud and clear – they want an Internet
that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the
best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit
rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband
provider," said Leahy, who plans to hold a field hearing on net
neutrality in Vermont next month.
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The legislation would not apply to so-called interconnection deals,
like the ones that have triggered a spat between Netflix Inc,
Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc. The FCC is reviewing
such deals but has not historically regulated them.
Experts have disputed how much authority the FCC has to prohibit
discrimination involving traffic. Its previous set of net neutrality
rules was rejected in January by an appeals court in a case brought
Comcast, through a condition placed on its purchase of NBC Universal
in 2011, is now the only company bound by the earlier version of the
rules, which allowed "commercially reasonable" discrimination of
traffic, but signaled that potential pay-for-priority deals would
"raise significant cause for concern."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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