Franken calls FCC net-neutrality vote ‘woefully misguided’

Sen. Al Franken issued a statement condemning the FCC plan.

WASHINGTON — On a 3-2 vote Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission formally kicked off the process of rewriting its net neutrality rules.

The step was procedural and not unexpected after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposed rule changes last month, but it was still met with bitterness and dire warnings from net neutrality activists and lawmakers, including Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

To recap: Wheeler’s proposed rules would undo FCC regulations against an Internet “fast lane” and allow Internet service providers to charge companies for quicker delivery of their content. Net neutrality proponents say the new rules would destroy the fundamental principle behind that philosophy — that the government and Internet service providers should treat all online content equally — by allowing providers to discriminate against content from those who can’t or won’t pay for faster access.

The FCC’s vote, which opens up a four-month public comment period ahead of a potential final vote this fall, “could spell the beginning of the end of the Internet as we know it, plain and simple,” Franken said.

“Because of net neutrality, the Internet has been a tremendous platform for innovation and connectivity,” Franken said in a statement. “But the FCC has taken a woefully misguided step toward handing the Internet over to big corporations who can pay boatloads of money for preferential treatment. Anyone who values a free and open Internet should be deeply troubled by the FCC’s vote, and I plan to do everything I can to convince them that they need to change course.”

This whole controversy came about because of a federal court ruling in January that said the federal government doesn’t have the power to regulate the Internet the same way it does public utilities. Some Democrats — including Rep. Keith Ellison’s Progressive Caucus — have argued the FCC could reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service, a move that would mitigate the decision. The proposal approved Thursday solicits comments on whether that should happen.

Internet providers, obviously, oppose this plan, and, as Vox explains, it would cause a host of headaches for regulators, both legal and political. Top House Republicans sent a letter to the FCC this week to “warn that implementation of such a plan will needlessly inhibit the creation of American private sector jobs, limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy’s most vibrant sectors.”

Thursday’s vote doesn’t guarantee the FCC will sign off on the rules this fall — in fact, Wheeler’s two closest ideological allies had hinted they would oppose his plan unless he rewrote parts of it, which he did earlier this week — but it was an opportunity for progressive, consumer and technology groups to reinforce their opposition to the proposal.

The Consumer Union said the rules “could eventually mean an end to the free and open Internet as we’ve known it.” Tech group Public Knowledge called them “well short of real net neutrality rules. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee — for whom Franken cut a widely-circulated video about net neutrality last week — consider the rules a “major assault on Internet freedom.”

Franken penned a Huffington Post op-ed on Wednesday, restating what he’s been saying all along: the new rules “could end with an Internet of haves and have-nots, with big corporations deciding who falls into which camp, all based on the amount of money they pay.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/15/2014 - 06:05 pm.

    Where to comment on the FCC site

    For “express” comments (proceeding # is 14-28):
    http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display?z=bwbgr

    For longer, more detailed comments (same proceeding # 14-28), you can attach a file at:
    http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display?z=ez10p

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/16/2014 - 08:43 am.

    Here’s what Franken needs to do

    He needs to provide one example of how someone has been or will be hurt by a tiered pricing system. Because everyone currently pays a different rate for faster access or better service or more programming. That’s the way markets work, sir.

    The reason Franken has virtually no support with this is not only because of the above reason, but because people believe that if Franken and the Left are for this, it must mean this is a government grab for regulation and control of the internet and even clear-thinking democrats, should any still exist, don’t like that idea.

  3. Submitted by Melinda Ludwiczak on 05/16/2014 - 01:09 pm.

    Freedom of Information

    This is a huge issue for public access and freedom of information. Librarians applaud Sen Franken for speaking out on this issue. For more info see the American Library Association web page on Net Neutrality.
    http://www.ala.org/advocacy/telecom/netneutrality
    “Our libraries’ longstanding commitment to freedom of expression in the realm of content is well-known; in the context of the net neutrality debate, however, we believe it is equally important to stress that the freedom of libraries and librarians to provide innovative new kinds of information services will be central to the growth and development of our democratic culture. A world in which librarians and other noncommercial enterprises are of necessity limited to the Internet’s “slow lanes” while high-definition movies can obtain preferential treatment seems to us to be overlooking a central priority for a democratic society – the necessity of enabling educators, librarians, and, in fact, all citizens to inform themselves and each other just as much as the major commercial and media interests can inform them.” For people taking online courses, loss of net neutrality will have a detrimental and adverse impact for long distance learners.

  4. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 05/16/2014 - 03:46 pm.

    Nonsense.

    I’m also in the online education business. I can see many potential problem areas related to net neutrality and e-learning. To state that it will have zero impact illustrates only your own lack of imagination (or your political bias).

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