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GOP Already Pushing for Paid Data Prioritization as Net Neutrality Rules Are Set to Expire

"Paid prioritization" is kind of a telling phrase for how this is all going down, tbh.

When the FCC decided that it would roll back the “net neutrality” rules enacted under the Obama administration—rules aimed at preventing paid data prioritization and the blocking or throttling of data from specific sites and services—that wasn’t necessarily the end of the fight. Congress could still write laws that could protect the openness of the internet, but we’re not too surprised to see that the Republican-controlled legislature’s ideas for doing that include undermining the entire principle.

As part of their plans for legislation on the subject, U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican chair of the House Communications and Technology subcommittee, has proposed what are sometimes referred to as internet “fast lanes” with an analogy to TSA precheck lines in airports—probably to connect with her constituents’ storied love of the TSA and airport lines. “Why can’t the internet run more quickly and efficiently, like airport security lines?” I always say.

Anyway, her opening statement went like this:

Many of you sitting in this room right now paid a line-sitter to get priority access to this hearing. In fact, it is commonplace for the government itself to offer priority access to services. If you have ever used Priority Mail, you know this to be the case. And what about TSA Precheck? It just might have saved you time as you traveled here today. If you define paid prioritization as simply the act of paying to get your own content in front of the consumer faster, prioritized ads or sponsored content are the basis of many business models online, as many of our members pointed out at the Facebook hearing last week.

But here’s the thing: none of those things are anything like the internet. (And when talking about improving the experience of using the very technology that makes email possible, likening it to old-fashioned, comparatively slow physical mail may not be the best way to sell your ideas.)

For a start, internet service providers would generally be charging companies like Netflix, for example, additional fees in order to prioritize the timely delivery of their data above that of other services, which wouldn’t really do anything for consumers or Netflix, but would certainly give ISPs a way to make even more money. It would also allow services with plenty of money to burn—again, like Netflix—to pay to have their service work better than others, effectively harming competition from smaller entities. Meanwhile, consumers already have options for different internet packages and speeds, and in the cases where they don’t, due to poor service and effective monopolies, paid prioritization like what Blackburn is proposing to allow wouldn’t solve that problem.

But shouldn’t some types of internet traffic be prioritized? In fact, as Ars Technica points out, some types of data, including that of emergency services, could already receive non-paid prioritization under the FCC’s existing rules, but under these newly proposed loopholes, receiving that priority would be based on money rather than importance, and that’s really the key here: money. None of this will really help the internet work any better … for consumers.

The FCC’s rules already allowed ISPs to prioritize traffic in a way that made sense for the functioning of their networks, such as putting more emphasis on video than text, because of the demands of streaming video vs. loading a bit of text. No, only the ISPs are really getting any help here, with no real upside for anyone else, and a big potential downside for competition between internet-based businesses.

(via Ars Technica, image: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.