October 30, 2014 / 3:40 PM / 5 years ago

Comcast to U.S. senator: no plans to create Internet 'fast lanes'

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp has no plans to create “fast lanes” for any Internet websites or applications, the top U.S. cable and broadband provider reassured the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in a recent letter.

Senator Patrick Leahy last week wrote to top Internet service providers (ISPs), asking them to pledge to reject so-called paid prioritization deals, in which content companies would pay ISPs to ensure smooth and fast delivery of their traffic.

“We have repeatedly made clear - both to our customers and more generally to the public - ‘Comcast doesn’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and we have no plans to do so,’” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen wrote to Leahy in a letter dated Oct. 24 and viewed by Reuters late on Wednesday.

The Federal Communications Commission received almost 4 million comments after it proposed new Web traffic, or “net neutrality” rules that prohibited ISPs from blocking content, but suggested allowing some “commercially reasonable” paid prioritization deals.

Verizon Communications Inc on Wednesday published its own response to Leahy, also asserting no plans for “fast lane” deals, and calling paid prioritization a “phantasm” and worries about it “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.”

Large ISPs, also including AT&T Inc, have been saying they had no plans for such deals and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he would not tolerate anti-competitive or anti-consumer arrangements.

Nonetheless, consumer advocates and other critics worry that opening the door to paid prioritization could create “fast lanes” for some content and so relegate other websites and applications to “slow lanes.”

Instead, some critics have urged the FCC to reclassify ISPs so they are regulated more like public utilities. The broadband companies strongly object to this, saying it would hamper investments and innovation.

In their letters, Comcast and Verizon both argued that the FCC should choose other legal options to prevent harmful paid prioritization short of reclassification.

“Departing from the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch approach to the Internet by reclassifying broadband ... would be risky and unnecessary,” Cohen wrote.

The FCC is writing new net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court in January struck down their previous version in a case brought by Verizon.

The 2010 rules allowed “commercially reasonable” discrimination of traffic, but indicated that the FCC would disapprove of potential “pay-for-priority” deals.

Comcast is the only ISP bound by the 2010 version of the rules and has to abide by them until 2018 as a condition of a merger with NBC Universal.

Its exchange with Leahy, a key lawmaker on antitrust issues, comes as the Justice Department and the FCC are reviewing Comcast’s proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable Inc . (Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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