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Franken: Net neutrality the ‘most important First Amendment issue of our time’

Sen. Al Franken today said the principle of net neutrality — meaning that equivalent Internet access is given to all content — is “under assault — not from the government but from corporations seeking to control the flow of information in America.”

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken today said the principle of net neutrality — meaning that equivalent Internet access is given to all content — is “under assault — not from the government but from corporations seeking to control the flow of information in America.”

In an opinion column published on CNN.com, Franken warned that allowing prioritization online would violate the First Amendment by allowing one set of information to have more priority than another, implicitly shunning those who can’t pay for access. He wrote:

Net neutrality” sounds arcane, but it’s fundamental to free speech. The internet today is an open marketplace. If you have a product, you can sell it. If you have an opinion, you can blog about it. If you have an idea, you can share it with the world.

And no matter who you are — a corporation selling a new widget, a senator making a political argument or just a Minnesotan sharing a funny cat video — you have equal access to that marketplace.

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An e-mail from your mom comes in just as fast as a bill notification from your bank. You’re reading this op-ed online; it’ll load just as fast as a blog post criticizing it. That’s what we mean by net neutrality.

The op-ed comes at a seminal moment in the debate on net neutrality, as news broke that the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T, Verizon, Skype and Google are in talks over how to “bridge” the gulf between those who want full net neutrality and content providers who hope to profit from selling premier access rates. Initial discussions have included allowing prioritization on wireless Internet devices, like mobile phones.

Courts have ruled that the FCC cannot regulate net neutrality, and the divide in Congress on the issue is so deep and expansive that there aren’t the votes either to officially ensconce net neutrality or oppose it.

“Net neutrality may sound like a technical issue, but it’s the key to preserving the internet as we know it,” Franken concluded, “and it’s the most important First Amendment issue of our time.”

Read Franken’s entire op-ed on CNN.com here.