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Net Neutrality: The First Amendment Issue of Our Time

| September 12, 2010

Park Place, if you can afford it. (© FlaglerLive)

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.

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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:

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9 Responses for “Net Neutrality: The First Amendment Issue of Our Time”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The internet is the last remaining source for American ingenuity and entrepeneurial start-up ventures. Now the internet will be gobbled up by the big guys, many of whom were given the opportunity of a free and open world wide web when they were the little guys. Nice (not) of Google and Verizon to be writing the rules of net neutrality. But this is a citizens’ issue and a First Amendment issue and I don’t trust any corporate entity to write the rules. The FCC needs Congress to give it the power to regulate a free and open internet, not an internet dominated by mega-corporate interests. I don’t buy the notion that there is a first class ticket for the wealthy corporations, while everybody else travels steerage class.

  2. BW says:

    This is probably one of the most confused issues in the tech world. First Google is making proposals (not writing rules) with Verizon to protect net neutrality. The real issue is the wireless world and attempting to lump in wired and wireless worlds with the same rules is ridiculous. The wired world has the infrastructure to support true ‘net neutrality’ while the wireless world does not at this time. But with the amount of traffic on these wireless networks and not limiting some use users will not be able to realize the true power and it will slow development.

  3. Dorothea says:

    Google and Verizon may be writing rules proposals, but for whom to enforce? If the government doesn’t take over enforcement under the FCC, who will? I am not going to reiterate Senator Franken’s speech, but I recommend reading his comments. BW, you might want to also read the mountains of commentary available on the internet regarding this issue.. The concerns are not limited to only wireless services.

  4. Liana G says:

    Bill Moyers did a very informative piece on this not too long ago. This is an issue that both the left and right should be able to agree on. However, proponents of free market and no gov’t /small gov’t – I’ll like to know where you stand because small business will disappear into oblivion trying to compete with large conglomerates in this online tier system.

  5. BW says:

    Dorothea, I have. The commentary attempts to lump the two together for political reasons. I’ve read the proposal by Google and Verizon. The FCC is already involved in the internet and they need to have a limited role especially to wired networks or we have an internet like cable TV. When it comes to wireless it is different. So why the attack on Google? Well that’s simple . . . . they are big supporters of Obama.

  6. Dorothea says:


    No attack intended on Google, just the idea that any corporation could make (propose) the rules, no matter who that corporation supported politically.

    A Federal appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to sanction Comcast for slowing down its services for selected users. This authority could only be given to the FCC by a vote of Congress. Therefore I would have to disagree with you that the FCC should only have a limited role. Comcast has already shown that they will make decisions about internet traffic based on their profit margins.

    As for “attacking” Google because they are big supporters of Obama, that’s funny. I, too, supported Obama, only to be disillusioned by his actions once in office compared to his rhetoric before he got there. Among other things, Obama became a supporter of whale killing and national security trumping human and civil rights. Not my kind of President. The alternative, however, any viable Republican candidate for president, would be worse.

  7. George says:

    Without the FCC we wouldn’t have the internet we have today, butt thanks to Net Neutrality in Europe, end users have a much more robust internet that makes the U.S. look like a snail and that’s as a result of tighter industry regulation, not less.

  8. Kip Durocher says:

    George hit the nail on the head. The internet is a product of American ingenuity and tech advancements. If you saw a list of where we rank in speed, fiber optic connect, even broadband coverage
    Read the truth and do it slower than 28 other countries.

  9. Gina @ Daytona Beach 4G Wireless says:

    Hello, just doing some research for my Daytona Beach 4g site. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but nice site. Cya later.

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