Carriers Tell U.S. 'No' to Plans for Internet Fast Lanes

In recent letters, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon said they have no plans to seek deals with content providers that would give faster Internet performance in exchange for special payments.

Internet fast lanes

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon officials are telling U.S. leaders that they do not plan to offer faster Internet access, or so-called "fast lanes," to content producers who are willing to pay more to get their messages out in front of competitors' transmissions.

The three companies announced their positions recently to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy in separate letters, according to an Oct. 30 report by Reuters, providing some early assurances to proponents of net neutrality who continue to fight the idea of faster Internet transmission speeds for those who are willing to pay for such a benefit. Net neutrality supporters argue that the Internet should serve everyone equally without the availability of special speed boosts or similar perks.

Leahy had previously written to the nation's top Internet service providers (ISPs) and asked them to "pledge that they would not enter any so-called paid prioritization deals," Reuters reported.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Leahy, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen wrote that the company has repeatedly made it clear to customers and to the public that "'Comcast doesn't prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and we have no plans to do so," according to Reuters.

AT&T had a similar response, telling Leahy that it had no plans to permit the acceleration of some Internet traffic for some clients "without the knowledge and direction of the end user," Reuters reported.

In its own response, Verizon Communications also said it too would not create fast lanes, "calling paid prioritization a 'phantasm,'" reported Reuters. The Verizon response also called the topic itself "demagoguery, since no major ISP has expressed an interest in offering 'paid prioritization' and all agree that the FCC has a valid legal path to prohibit it."

The issue of net neutrality has been a hotbed for several years, with proponents and opponents arguing their positions and bashing the opposition verbally in public forums and discussions.

In September, the FCC announced that it had received a record 3 million comments about proposed rules for net neutrality by a Sept. 15 deadline. The FCC has since been busy analyzing that feedback, so it can then decide how to proceed on rules that will define the Internet into the future.

The latest FCC rules proposals garnered lots of comments because they include a controversial proposal that would allow content companies to push some content faster to consumers for an extra fee, rather than providing the same service to all users.

Critics argue that such an action would harm the industry and continued investments in faster Internet speeds.

Much of the latest tempest over fast lanes began in May, after the FCC voted 3-2 in favor of a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler. While Wheeler's the proposal forbids ISPs from purposefully slowing down any type of traffic, it allows for the controversial possibility that companies, under "commercially reasonable" terms, could pay for extra-fast service.

That FCC vote didn't confirm the proposal, but moved it forward for continued research and public comment. The number of public comments was historic for the FCC. The FCC did not release exact counts of the responses they received, but they apparently crashed the site under the strain.

As President Obama was running for the presidency in 2007, he pledged to support net neutrality if elected.