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Net neutrality: Franken hails FCC chair’s move toward Internet service as utility

Franken: “This is the First Amendment issue of our time … today is a good day.”

In an op-ed in Wired, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would look to reclassify Internet service as a utility to preserve net neutrality.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON — On the day the head of the Federal Communications Commission confirmed he would make the strongest possible moves to preserve federal open Internet rules, Sen. Al Franken repeated what he has said throughout the debate over net neutrality: “This is the First Amendment issue of our time.”

This time, he added: “This is a very good day.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Wednesday that he would seek to reclassify Internet service as a public utility worthy of government regulation, which in this case means maintaining the concept that all content on the Internet should be treated the same by the providers who bring it to users.

This so-called “net neutrality” has been a key component of FCC regulatory schemes for a long time, but it was struck down last year by a federal court, which ruled existing net neutrality regulations were not allowed because the Internet isn’t currently considered a utility.

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The FCC needed to either change the rule or consider reclassification, a process that drew more than 4 million public comments and a public prodding toward reclassification from President Obama in November. In an op-ed in Wired, Wheeler said he would look to do just that, so as to preserve net neutrality. The full FCC board will vote on the proposal later this month.

Internet providers have long opposed reclassification because it could open the door to more regulations on them, and it could still face a legal challenge, but open Internet activists have long hoped Wheeler would consider the move.

“This is preserving net neutrality, that’s what just happened,” Franken said during a press conference on Tuesday. “All this innovation that has happened on the Internet has been because of net neutrality. It has been the architecture of the Internet from the very beginning, and this is preserving it.”

 Net neutrality bans so-called “fast lanes,” or when content creators cut deals with providers to deliver their content to consumers faster. Net neutrality advocates also consider it a First Amendment issue, because it would prevent providers from theoretically slowing down delivery speeds for websites or messages with which they disagree.

“This is about our economic future,” Franken said. “The Internet is about our economy, it’s about prosperity, and it’s also democracy and freedom of expression.”

Franken has been one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of net neutrality. Wednesday’s press conference, which featured Franken and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (New Jersey), Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Ed Markey (Massachusetts), was, at times celebratory to the point of hyperbole, with some senators saying Wednesday amounted to a national holiday. Markey, for one, called net neutrality the “Declaration of Independence for the Internet,” equated it to preserving clean air and water standards and said it would promote “Darwinian, paranoia-inducing competition” among Internet providers.

To which Franken deadpanned: “I’m for that?”

Devin Henry can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry