MONTPELIER -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy plans to convene a hearing in Vermont to gather opinions from residents on a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission that could create fast lanes for Internet traffic from websites that can afford to pay more.
The field hearing of the Judicial Committee he leads will be held Tuesday at the University of Vermont.
Leahy, a Democrat, is proposing a law that would require the FCC to ban so-called paid prioritization agreements between a broadband provider and a content provider. He says his proposal would ensure startup businesses and entrepreneurs have access to the marketplace and would ensure consumers can access all content equally.
"The Internet can be a wonderful thing because it's available to everybody," Leahy said. "I don't want to see us get to the point where certain groups, because they're powerful commercial interests, are favored over others."
Under the FCC's proposed rules released in May, Internet providers would be able to charge other companies for priority, high-speed access to their users. The proposal came after a January federal appeals decision that struck down a previous set of rules. The FCC says the new rules follow the blueprint laid out in the January decision.
The FCC will issue its final rules after the close of a 120-day comment period in mid-September.
Some large companies that conduct business over the Internet believe the proposal could legalize discrimination while small companies say they couldn't afford to pay.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said in a statement that its members support clear rules to ensure consumers have "an open and unfettered" Internet experience.
"Cable companies do not engage in paid prioritization and have every incentive to ensure that all consumers enjoy fast and robust internet services," the group said in a statement released this month. "We are confident that (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler can restore effective rules under the path that the court suggested."