Al Franken: Net neutrality rules permit political censorship [UPDATE]

Franken: Keep it neutral.

Franken: Keep it neutral.

The compromise net neutrality rules just adopted by the FCC would prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Qwest from blocking user access to websites and applications.

But the measure won't do the same thing for wireless companies, and Al Franken smells censorship in the making.


Net neutrality is the "free speech issue of our time," he says. Here's what the concept means:

Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by Internet Service Providers or governments on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as communication that is not unreasonably degraded by other traffic.

After the FCC acted, Franken said its work was "simply inadequate to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet."

"The rule also contains almost no protections for mobile broadband service, remaining silent on the blocking of content, applications, and devices," he said. "Wireless technology is the future of the Internet, and for many rural Minnesotans, it's often the only choice for broadband."

On the Senate floor the other day, he was more forceful.

It would allow Internet providers to create a fast lane for companies that can afford to pay a premium. It would allow mobile networks, like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, to completely block content and applications whenever it suits them--for either political or business reasons.

Let me underscore this--this is the first time the FCC has allowed discrimination on the Internet.

Let me give you an example. Maybe you like Google Maps. Well, tough. If the FCC passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cutoff access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good, even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free.

If corporations are allowed to prioritize content on the Internet, or they are allowed to block applications you access on your iPhone, there is nothing to prevent those same corporations from censoring political speech.

Update: As if right on queue, Apple has banned the Wikileaks app.

Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had removed the app "because it violated our developer guidelines." Ms. Muller added: "Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm's way."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski quarterbacked the FCC compromise rule. Read his defense here. In short, he says:

For the first time, we'll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.

Unless you're Michele Bachmann, of course. In that case, you believe that net neutrality is actually an evil Obama administration plot to censor the Internet. Which is to say, she has it exactly backwards:

"So whether they're attacking conservative talk radio, or conservative TV or whether it's Internet sites, I mean, let's face it, what's the Obama administration doing? They're advocating net neutrality which is essentially censorship of the Internet. This is the Obama administration advocating censorship of the Internet. Why? They want to silence the voices that are opposing them."

In Bachmann's world, free speech unfettered by corporate or government interference is censorship. And she's not alone there. Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner, writes today in the Wall Street Jourrnal that the bill is nothing more than "needless and harmful regulation."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government's reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings.

Because corporate America wouldn't ever dream of trying to stifle freedom of the press. Heavens no. Just ask Apple.