Pretty Much Everyone (Except The FCC) Thinks Internet Fast Lanes Are A Bad Idea

Image courtesy of (Photo: Consumerist)
The pro-net neutrality protest outside the FCC on May 15.

The pro-net neutrality protest outside the FCC on May 15.

This morning the House Judiciary Committee held another hearing about net neutrality. While the members of Congress and expert witnesses are sitting on Capitol Hill arguing with each other over antitrust law, the public is clear on one thing: paid prioritization is a bad, bad idea.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports have been quite busy with surveys this spring. In a nationally representative poll, they’ve found that well over half of respondents, 58%, believe that regulators should absolutely not allow ISPs to enter paid prioritization deals. No fast lanes: no way, no how.

The findings echo what the overwhelming majority of the 187,897 (and counting) public comments to the FCC have said. There is also a (largely symbolic) pending bill in the House and Senate that would require the FCC to ban “fast lane” paid prioritization arrangements.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, shared the survey results with the House Judiciary Committee in a letter that was added to the record at the hearing this morning (full text below).

The public comment period for the FCC’s proposed open internet rule ends on July 15. If you have thoughts about net neutrality and paid prioritization, here’s how to let them know.

The full text of Consumers Union’s letter:

June 19, 2014

The Honorable Spencer Bachus, Chairman
The Honorable Hank Johnson, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform,
Commercial and Antitrust Law
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Bachus and Congressman Johnson:

As strong supporters of both net neutrality and the antitrust laws, Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports, appreciates the Subcommittee’s holding a hearing to bring further attention to the issue of how best to advance the goal of net neutrality.

With the Internet becoming ever-more central to American life, it is essential that we not devolve into a two-tiered society where some get special preference over others. And consumers agree. In a recent national Consumer Reports survey, 58 percent were opposed to allowing Internet service providers to charge extra for preferential treatment. Only 16 percent of those surveyed thought this was a good idea.

Consumers Union has been very engaged in working with the Federal Communications Commission over the years to ensure that net neutrality is the law of the land. We were deeply disappointed when the court overturned the FCC’s net neutrality rules, and have been working ever since to convince the FCC to restore the rules by using Title II authority to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. We have also asked the FCC and the Justice Department to investigate the recent Comcast-Netflix deal involving Netflix paying for faster access to Comcast customers, to determine its impact on net neutrality and competition.

As the Subcommittee considers the role the antitrust laws can play in advancing the goals of net neutrality, we hope you will bear in mind that the antitrust laws address specific kinds of harmful marketplace conduct – agreements in restraint of trade, monopolization and attempts to monopolize, and mergers that may substantially lessen competition. However, there are other kinds of harmful marketplace conduct that the antitrust laws do not reach.

Net neutrality is one area where the antitrust laws cannot be counted on to provide the complete solution. An Internet service provider raising prices on targeted content providers or on targeted consumers may or may not be violating the antitrust laws. But even if that conduct is not violating the antitrust laws, it is harming consumers, and it needs to be prohibited. That is why we support the Federal Communications Commission’s vigorous use of its broader public interest authority in this area.

The principle of net neutrality reflects an overriding policy judgment that the benefits of the Internet, for consumers and for the overall economy, are best achieved if the Internet is available to everyone on equal, nondiscriminatory terms. We need a regulatory framework that promises to achieve that goal. The antitrust laws are not inconsistent with that goal, and can also help promote it, but they are not by themselves sufficient to fully achieve it.

We need the FCC to restore network neutrality rules that will ensure an open and accessible Internet for everyone.

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