Franken: Net neutrality is ‘First Amendment issue of our time’

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Making sure all surfers on the Web enjoy the same speed no matter which website they visit is a fundamental free speech issue, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on Tuesday.

“It is absolutely the First Amendment issue of our time,” Franken said at a Capitol Hill forum sponsored by the advocacy group Free Press.

“Do we want deep-pocketed corporations controlling what information you get at what speed?” he added.

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Franken, who has been a critical supporter of the concept of net neutrality, said that other members of Congress simply don’t understand the way the Internet works.

“This has been the architecture of the Internet from the beginning, and everyone should understand that,” he said.

“Some of my colleagues in the Congress don’t understand that. ... You just want to go ‘Oh, come on,’ ” Franken said. “ 'Really, don’t get up and talk unless you know something.' ”

Many Republicans in Congress have opposed new net neutrality regulations, which they warn amount to government intervention in an open marketplace.

But Franken, up for reelection this year, said they have it all backwards.

“All this innovation hasn’t happened just while we’ve had net neutrality,” he said. “It’s happened because we have net neutrality.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing regulations were thrown out by a federal appeals court earlier this year.

Now, the FCC is working on new regulations, though proponents of regulating the Web warn a plan from Chairman Tom Wheeler would allow Internet service providers like Comcast to negotiate and speed up traffic to some websites, which would be akin to “fast lanes” with a toll. That would block small upstart companies from reaching the audience they need to succeed, critics say.

Franken on Tuesday was introduced by Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of the forum website Reddit and advocate for net neutrality.

Ohanian said he was “living proof of what he open and free Internet can provide,” and feared that his website would not have been able to get off the ground without the FCC regulations.