Net Neutrality: The First Amendment Issue of Our Time
FlaglerLive | September 12, 2010
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken delivered the following speech to the Free Press Group in Minneapolis on Aug. 19.
Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time. Today, a blog can load as fast as the Wall Street Journal — and, if the blog is good, it can get more traffic than any media conglomerate.
But if bigger companies can pay for faster, priority Internet access, that blogger no longer has a shot. And these big companies know that when they pay for access, they win. They want preferred treatment on the Internet like the preferred treatment they get in the rest of their lives.
You know, the Chief Technology Officer for BellSouth, he compared the Internet to airline tickets. He said “I can buy a coach standby ticket or a first class ticket…” and he thinks that’s what the Internet should be like too. Well I don’t think we should make our small businesses buy a first class ticket to sell their goods online. And I don’t think we should make bloggers buy a first class ticket for people to be able to hear their ideas.
As many of you may have heard, just a few weeks ago, Google and Verizon announced that they had developed a policy framework that would protect net neutrality. Well, first of all, they wrote that framework so it wouldn’t apply to wireless Internet services.
This means that the net would be neutral at home, but not on a wireless network or when you are on your phone. But that’s not too big a deal… whoever heard of using the Internet on your phone anyways?
The folks at Google and Verizon also wrote their framework so broadly that it would probably allow companies to pay for faster access for themselves even on the “wireline” Internet.
They left a huge loophole for what they call “managed services”, and then they want us to tie the hands of the FCC when it comes to regulating these services. Any Internet service provider could decide to open up a “fast lane” Internet of only certain websites or web applications. And if the FCC had a problem with it, Google and Verizon’s plan has empowered them to-get this-publish a report.
But there’s an even bigger issue here. And it’s that when government does not act, corporations will.
And unlike government agencies, which have a legal responsibility to protect American consumers, the only thing corporations care about-the only thing they have an affirmative legal duty to promote is their bottom line.
So we can’t let companies write the rules that they’re supposed to follow. Because if that happens, those rules are only going to protect corporations.
But protecting an open Internet isn’t just about developing new and enforceable net neutrality standards. It is also about making sure that the Internet isn’t effectively owned by a handful of companies.
That’s why I believe that preventing media consolidation is a big part of the fight for a free and open Internet. And that’s why I’m opposed to the Comcast/NBC merger.
When the same company owns the programming and runs the pipes that bring us that programming, we have a problem.
And folks, we have a problem. Comcast is the nation’s largest Internet service provider, and the largest cable provider. And the two companies, if allowed to merge, would own 35 different channels.
But we don’t just have a competition problem. We have a First Amendment problem.
Justice Hugo Black once said that “[f]reedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not.” Justice Black said that if anything, the First Amendment advised against these kinds of mergers.
Yet if this merger goes through, Comcast and NBC will have an unparalleled ability to keep others from publishing. And it will mean a poorer marketplace — and a poorer marketplace of ideas — for everyone.
Commissioners Copps and Clyburn, I urge you to oppose any and all efforts to undermine net neutrality or impede the free flow of information. This means opposing the Comcast/NBC merger-because it will hurt competition and the marketplace of ideas that has made the Internet what it is today. Looking forward, we also need you to take a clear stance against the Google-Verizon proposal, which presents an equal threat.
I hope I’ll get the chance to work with both of you in protecting these things. And I hope to have the support of everyone here in the fight to ensure an open, neutral Internet for generations to come.
Watch the Speech: