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Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has called net neutrality "the First Amendment issue of our time." (Photo: Senate Democrats)

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has called net neutrality "the First Amendment issue of our time." (Photo: Senate Democrats)

Senator Al Franken: Net Neutrality 'Is the First Amendment Issue of Our Time'

Panel highlights importance of open Internet, now under threat by FCC proposal

Andrea Germanos

Senator Al Franken has reiterated his call for an open Internet, saying on Tuesday that net neutrality "is the First Amendment issue of our time."

The Minnesota Democrat made the statement at a panel discussion entitled Innovation, Creativity and the Future of the Internet: Why Real Net Neutrality Matters held by Free Press, echoing comments he made in 2010.

Open Internet advocates have warned that the current proposal by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) threatens to create a two-tiered net where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could charge for "fast lanes" that would give preferential, faster treatment to some content. Conversely, as this comic explains, when content takes longer to load, it is effectively blocked. And as Free Press' Tim Karr writes, the FCC proposal would end the current system of net neutrality, which means that "Internet users have the right to connect with anyone else on the network without their service providers discriminating, censoring or otherwise interfering with their communications."

Franken, who has been an outspoken supporter of the net neutrality, said this principle "has been the architecture of the Internet from the beginning, and everyone should understand that,” The Hill reports.

Echoing this point, Karr writes, "Net neutrality was baked into the DNA of the Internet at its inception. It’s allowed us to decide where we go on the network without access providers hindering our movement."

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

Also speaking on the panel to highlight the importance of net neutrality was Althea Erickson, policy director of Etsy, the online marketplace featuring homemade and vintage goods. Net neutrality, Erickson wrote Tuesday at the Etsy blog, "is what allowed Etsy to grow from a tiny company in a Brooklyn apartment to a global platform that hosts over one million sellers worldwide."

If the FCC proposal goes into effect, she continues, Etsy's "low margins would not allow us to pay for priority access to ensure our site loaded as quickly as rival sites," and notes that it is "the micro-businesses who sell on Etsy would suffer most if the FCC moves forward with this proposal."

"The Internet has democratized access to entrepreneurship for a whole new cohort of Americans, and [FCC] Chairman Wheeler’s proposal threatens to undermine this progress by creating a pay-to-play environment that gives even greater advantage to entrenched interests," Erickson writes.

Free Press, Etsy, and other advocacy groups are urging people to submit comments to the FCC calling for the body to drop the its proposal and maintain an open Internet. The deadline for comments is July 15.

Open Internet defenders took to Twitter to highlight the importance of the issue and statements made at the event:

 

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