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Leahy Wants To Preserve Equal Access To The Internet

Angela Evancie
Sen. Patrick Leahy, shown here in St. Albans on Oct. 10, is asking four of the country's largest Internet providers to pledge not to use Internet fast lanes.

Sen. Patrick Leahy is asking the nation’s largest Internet providers to make a concrete commitment that they will not pursue any plans to create so called “fast lanes” on the Internet.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a proposal that would allow Internet Service providers to create a new premium access service online.

"I want to pin everybody down. I think the people in the country overwhelmingly say do not have a fast lane and that is what we have to ensure." - Sen. Patrick Leahy

Under this plan, the providers would charge an additional fee for businesses that want this new service. Businesses could use the faster lane to give their customers quicker access to the company website.

Leahy doesn’t support this approach because he says all businesses should have equal access on the Internet.

That’s why Leahy has written the nation’s four largest Internet providers, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon and Charter Communications asking them to pledge not to pursue this “fast lane” approach even if the FCC gives its approval to the plan.

“I want to pin everybody down,” said Leahy. “I think the people in the country overwhelmingly say don’t have a fast lane and that’s what we have to ensure.”

Leahy says the four companies have told him that they have no plans to offer this premium service on the Internet. But he wants this pledge in writing.

“Because they could change tomorrow. We have mergers being planned and they could get into these mergers and say, 'you know that was then this is now.' I want a pledge, and then I want to use that to get legislation  that makes sure that they don’t have it,” he said.

Comcast is hoping to merge with Time Warner and AT&T wants to purchase Direct TV. Both deals are being reviewed by federal regulators.

Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, says the companies  response to his letter should be a key factor in the federal review of these mergers.

“If they’re going to play favorites with people, yes, that would create a real problem,” he said.

If these companies refuse to make this pledge, Leahy says he’s confident that he can build a strong bi-partisan majority in the Senate to pass legislation that would prohibit the creation of “fast lanes” on the Internet.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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