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Franken pushes net neutrality as ‘most important free speech issue of our time’

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) penned an editorial for the Huffington Post Monday that urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create rules regulating net neutrality from internet providers. The FCC is set to issue new proposed guidelines during a meeting Tuesday and early word is that the policy will institute rules sure to upset net neutrality advocates.

Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should not be allowed to filter the web so that certain content loads faster or costs more for user. Advocates fear that without a policy instituting net neutrality, service providers will form partnerships with corporations that make their web content operate faster, thereby shutting out smaller websites and content producers.

In the editorial, titled “The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time,” Franken lays out the reasons why it is necessary for the government to intervene in the operations of how consumers are delivered internet access.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

Franken goes on to note that the likely FCC regulations would be particularly harmful for rural populations. Separated from the heavily wired urban areas, much of the country will depend on mobile internet access in order to gain access to new technologies. But under the FCC’s plans, mobile companies would be allowed to block users from accessing specific content.

Franken writes:

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

Stressing the importance for net neutrality is not a new issue for Franken. In August he spoke in advance of a FCC meeting in Minneapolis. “Ultimately what I’m afraid of,” said Franken, “is that the internet service providers will be made up of about five companies.”

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