Bill Banning Internet Fast Lanes Makes It To Congress, And It's More Important Than You Think

Like the Internet? You'll like this: On Tuesday, Democrats floated a new bill banning Internet fast lanes, though predictably Republicans are unlikely to support it. Truth: The best thing about the Internet is that anyone can access it. But equal access is being threatened by Internet providers wanting to install so-called "Internet Fast Lanes" allowing those who pay more to get faster, better access — at the expense of those who can't afford the upgrade. That could mean certain consumers have to pay for fast access, or that companies like Netflix have to pay an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to stream its content seamlessly.

Either way, consumers don't stand to benefit from big changes to net neutrality.

A little background: Right now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is trying to rewrite its rules regarding net neutrality. A previous rule was struck down in court for equating ISPs to something more like traditional phone companies. Right now ISPs are technically "information services," which the agency doesn't have a lot of control over. So now the FCC is trying to decide whether to formally reclassify ISPs, or whether it's able to write a sufficiently protective rule guarding net neutrality without changing how ISPs are classified.

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In any case, some senators seem to think FCC Chair Tom Wheeler needs back-up to figure out how to enforce net neutrality. In light of that, The Washington Post reports that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would basically ensure that Netflix can't pay for more streaming room on the Internet at the expense of services that don't pay for access. This is also called "paid prioritization." Google, Netflix, Amazon, and other web giants have come out against it.

The Congressional bill may not go far enough in protecting consumers, some say, but it's a start.

An aide to the Democrats told the Post that the senators were trying to make a point.

People are missing the point. The point is: Ban paid prioritization. Because that'll fundamentally change how the Internet works.

But — le sigh — the aide also said the bill was unlikely to sway Republicans.