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Franken Sees Hope For The 'Little Guy' On The Internet

by Wright Bryan
Dec 22, 2010

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Wright Bryan

Participants on both sides of the "net neutrality" debate have criticized the FCC's vote yesterday in favor of new rules governing how content travels across the Internet.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), however, told NPR's Audie Cornish in an interview Wednesday that the FCC's action wasa step in the right direction.

Franken, a vocal supporter of net neutrality, says the FCC language challenging "paid prioritization" — that is, creating a fast lane for content producers who pay extra — has him hopeful that openness will continue to be the rule of the road.

He is less hopeful about the mobile Web, saying that there is "pretty much no protection provided for wireless" net neutrality by the FCC.

Franken frames the squishy issue of net neutrality as being all about maintaining the current system:

"This is about protecting the status quo, protecting the way it's been. The Internet has been a very open and free market, and network. And it should remain that way."

The senator says he hopes the government can avoid a future where large companies call the shots on how traffic flows across the Internet, from producer to consumer:

"My fear is that, sooner or later, with media consolidation, you're going to have four or five companies running this whole operation. ... All of our information will be owned by an oligopoly. And this oligopoly will start having a faster tier and sell that to big corporations. ... And [then] you've got, essentially, an Orwellian information system."

Franken, in fact, makes an argument that sounds like the kind of conservative, free market, small business advocacy more often associated with politicians from the other side of the aisle in Congress.

"What this is really about is keeping what we have, keeping the Internet open and free, keeping it competitive, keeping it so that there is innovation and little guys can compete, [so] that the mom-and-pop hardware store, you can get their website just as fast as you get [to] Ace Hardware."

In the end, Franken says there is something at stake that is more important than the business and technology issues always clouding the net neutrality debate. He says it's a constitutional issue:

"I do believe this is the First Amendment issue of our time."

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