Sen. Al Franken Calls Net Neutrality “The Free Speech Issue Of Our Time”

While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler works to make Verizon’s skewed vision of net neutrality real, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota has made an impassioned plea to the American people to stand up against the notion that deep-pocketed companies should have better and faster access to Internet users than everyone else.

For those coming to this story late, earlier this year a federal appeals court sided with Verizon and gutted the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules — which had prohibited Internet Service Providers from blocking, slowing, or prioritizing the data they carry. In the wake of that decision, Wheeler promised to restore neutrality, but the draft proposal he recently circulated to his colleagues at the commission includes a so-called “fast lane” exception, which would allow Verizon and other ISPs to charge a premium for a faster connection to their end users.

In the above video released by Franken and a group called Progressive Change that is behind the site NoSlowLane.com, the Senator takes issue with the idea of fast lanes, especially as they go against the basic foundation of the Internet.

“It was American taxpayers for paid for the development of the Internet by DARPA, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency,” explains Franken. “Since then, the Internet has changed everything about the way we communicate with each other. And the astounding innovation that accompanied and accelerated this revolution was possible only because of the basic architecture of the Internet — net neutrality.”

Franken believes that Wheeler’s fast lane proposal means is the biggest threat to date to the idea of neutrality.

“This means that big corporations will be able to get their content delivered faster,” he explains. “Mom and pop stores would lose even more ground to corporate giants; big media companies will be able to get their version of the news to consumers faster. We’d end up paying for it with higher rates for Internet service, and new obstacles to accessing the content that we want.”

The Senator call neutrality, “the free speech issue of our time. We cannot allow the FCC to implement a pay-to-play system that silences our voices and amplifies that of big corporate interests.”

“We have come to a crossroads,” he concludes. “Now is the time to rise up and make our voices heard to preserve net neutrality. We paid for a free and open Internet; we can’t let it be taken away. We have to win this and we have to win this now.”

The FCC has taken the very rare step of starting an e-mail address — openinternet@fcc.gov — to accept comments on the neutrality proposal before it’s even been seen by the public. Those comments are on the record and the commission says they will be taken into account as the proposal moves forward.

The commission is set to vote as a whole on the draft on May 15, after which the full text will be made public and available for further comment.

The government is giving you a chance to be heard, so you might as well take the opportunity while you can. Even if the FCC doesn’t listen, at least neutrality supporters will be able to point to the FCC’s failing when the next former telecom executive is eventually appointed to replace Wheeler.