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U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to ban 'paid prioritization' of web traffic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation in the Senate and the House of Representatives to ban deals where Web content companies could pay Internet service providers to deliver their traffic to users faster and more reliably.

The bicameral bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Doris Matsui of California comes as the Federal Communications Commission is collecting public comments on new "net neutrality" rules.

The FCC's proposed rules, up for public comment until September 10, prohibit Internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to websites but may let them charge content companies to prioritize their traffic as long as such deals are deemed "commercially reasonable."

The proposal, however, also seeks comment on whether all or some such pay-for-priority deals should also be banned.

Leahy's and Matsui's bill would require the FCC to prohibit such agreements for paid prioritization on the so-called "last mile," the part of the network that goes from the Internet service providers to the consumer.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear – they want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider," said Leahy, who plans to hold a field hearing on net neutrality in Vermont next month.

The legislation would not apply to so-called interconnection deals, like the ones that have triggered a spat between Netflix Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc. The FCC is reviewing such deals but has not historically regulated them.

Experts have disputed how much authority the FCC has to prohibit discrimination involving traffic. Its previous set of net neutrality rules was rejected in January by an appeals court in a case brought by Verizon.

Comcast, through a condition placed on its purchase of NBC Universal in 2011, is now the only company bound by the earlier version of the rules, which allowed "commercially reasonable" discrimination of traffic, but signaled that potential pay-for-priority deals would "raise significant cause for concern."

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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