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Comcast denies plans to offer internet 'fast lanes'

The nation's largest broadband provider says it has no plans to offer fast lanes on the internet once the FCC rolls back net neutrality rules next month.

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The FCC is about to vote on a proposal that will gut rules net neutrality rules the agency adopted in 2015.

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Comcast said it has no plans to offer fast lanes on the internet after the Federal Communications Commission eliminates Obama-era regulation, which banned the practice.

On Tuesday, the nation's biggest cable operator responded to a report from the website Ars Technica, which stated Comcast might be considering offering a service that would charge companies like Netflix and Google to deliver their services more quickly to consumers.

In a statement to CNET, Comcast denied the claim.

"Comcast hasn't entered into any paid prioritization agreements. Period," spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in an email. "And we have no plans to do so."

The statement comes as the FCC is about to vote on a proposal that will gut rules the FCC adopted in 2015 under Democratic control. The FCC's proposal spearheaded by Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed as chairman by President Donald Trump, will eliminate the most controversial part of the old rules, which reclassified broadband as public utility. It also tosses out basic protections, such as requirements that prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing down traffic. Pai's proposal also eliminates the ban on so-called paid priority services.

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The whole idea behind net neutrality is that all traffic on the internet is treated equally. Paid priority was a hot button issue when the rules were debated in 2014. Net neutrality supporters, like tech companies Google and Mozilla, feared that without rules prohibiting the practice, service providers could charge companies to get "priority" access on the internet, thus creating "fast" lanes. Meanwhile companies that didn't pay for priority access would be relegated to "slow" lanes.

Net neutrality supporters argued that such an arrangement would mean only companies that could afford to pay fees to the broadband companies would get access to fast lanes, which would ultimately hurt smaller startups, who wouldn't be able to compete.

But FCC Chairman Pai has argued that "fast lanes" can benefit consumers. He argues services like home health monitoring applications or self-driving car applications could benefit from speedier access on the internet. He believes the FCC's current rule banning such services also stifles innovation.  

Comcast's Executive Senior Vice President David Cohen said in 2014, when the debate over fast lanes first emerged, that Comcast had no intention of offering such a service. But Ars Technica pointed out that Comcast's most recent statements have only promised the company won't throttle or block content. The publication inferred the omission of a specific promise not to offer a paid priority service signaled the company's willingness to leave the door open to offer such a service.

Comcast said that is not the case.

"No matter what the skeptics say, you can't accurately convert an unequivocal statement that Comcast has no plans to enter into any paid prioritization arrangement into plans for paid prioritization," Fitzmaurice added. "As we've made clear consistently, regardless of how the FCC rules turn out, we will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content."

The FCC is set to vote on the new rules on Dec. 14.

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