Democrats unveil legislation forcing the FCC to ban Internet fast lanes

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Democratic lawmakers will unveil a piece of bicameral legislation that would force the Federal Communications Commission to ban fast lanes on the Internet.

The proposal, put forward by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA), requires the FCC to use whatever authority it sees fit to make sure that Internet providers don't speed up certain types of content (like Netflix videos) at the expense of others (like e-mail). It wouldn't give the commission new powers, but the bill -- known as the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act -- would give the FCC crucial political cover to prohibit what consumer advocates say would harm startup companies and Internet services by requiring them to pay extra fees to ISPs.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear," said Sen Leahy, who is holding a hearing on net neutrality in Vermont this summer. "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."

Sen Leahy and Rep Matsui's proposed ban on fast lanes would apply only to the connections between consumers and their ISPs -- the part of the Internet governed by the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules. The FCC's current proposal tacitly allows for the creation of a tiered Internet for content companies, though the commission has asked the public whether it should ban the practice as "commercially unreasonable."

"A free and open Internet is essential for consumers," said Rep Matsui. "Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets."

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