Democrats take on Republicans with proposed net neutrality bill

A group of Democratic leaders have incited a new political debate over what direction net neutrality should take by reintroducing a bill that would put a ban on paid prioritization agreements between content providers like Netflix and ISPs like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ).

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) reintroduced The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act.

Initially introduced by the two lawmakers in 2014, the bill "would help prevent the creation of a two-tiered Internet system, ensuring start-ups and entrepreneurs have access to the marketplace and ensuring consumers can access all content equally," according to a statement on Leahy's website.

The Democrats are clearly trying to jump ahead of the Republicans, who hold majority seats in the House and Senate, and are going to introduce their own net neutrality bill sometime this month.  

A group of Republican members of Congress have reportedly proposed another method for the FCC to regulate broadband providers by developing what is called "Title X," a special element of the Communications Act. Under Title X, the FCC would have the authority to prevent service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer traffic to a specific website like Netflix or carving out special paid prioritization deals, but the regulator would have to agree to not reclassify service providers under the Title II element of the Communications Act.

Interestingly, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinted during this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that he is leaning toward proposing net neutrality rules where broadband providers will be reclassified as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act. Title II has also gained support from President Barack Obama, who appealed to the FCC in November to make this move. 

The FCC plans to vote on net neutrality next month.

For more:
- see the draft of the bill

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