Save the Internet From Al Franken


How do you work this thing, anyway?

Last time we checked in with Senate not-so-funny man Al Franken and his ongoing crusade to save the Internet by enforcing net neutrality, he was confusing wireless data networks like the ones that connect Blackberries and iPhones to the Internet with home-based wi-fi connections like you might set up in your office. Whoops! But Franken has never been one for details, as even his defenders admit: In his response to his warning that we're on the way to a corporate-driven Internet in which "the Fox News website loads five times faster than Daily Kos?," a Daily Kos diarist explained that what Franken really managed to show was that "he really didn't understand network neutrality."

Since then, the FCC has passed brand-spankin'-new net neutrality regulations. And though the rules are not as strict as the most diehard neutrality advocates hoped for, they give the FCC its first foothold in the core of the Internet

But apparently, he's not about to let either victory or a few minor technical mixups throw him off the trail. Trouble is, he still doesn't seem to have a clue. From Politico:

"I came here to warn you, the party may be over," Franken said. "They're coming after the Internet hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important [medium] for independent artists and entrepreneurs: its openness and freedom." Net neutrality, he added, is "the First Amendment issue of our time."

Sorry, but the First Amendment guarantees that the government won't interfere with anyone's speech. It's not a license to say anything you want using anyone else's property. And it certainly isn't a guarantee that private Internet Service Providers will be forced to operate their networks according to the whims of a handful of federal bureaucrats.

…"Unfortunately one thing these big corporations have that we don't is the ability to purchase favorable political outcomes," he said. "Big telecoms have lots of [lobbyists], and good ones, too. …The end of net neutrality would benefit no one but these corporate giants."

Funny, but if the big corporations who operate the web's core infrastructure are so intent on taking over the Internet by opposing net neutrality regulations, and if it's so easy for them to buy political outcomes, then how come they ended up with neutrality regulations that they oppose so strong that they are now suing to get rid of them?

Franken said talk of a "government takeover" of the Internet by net neutrality critics has as much credibility as claims of "death panels" in the health care legislation and claims that "Obama's a Muslim," calling them a "pantheon of lies."

I will say this: An all Black Eyed Peas future would be very bad.

Is it a government takeover when a federal agency asserts unprecedented power to regulate the core business practices of an industry? 

Franken finished up his half-hour speech by imploring the crowd to preserve net neutrality to avoid a future in which they're "stuck listening to the Black Eyed Peas and reminiscing about the days before you had to sell out to make it."

"Let's not let the government sell us out," he said. "Let's fight for net neutrality. Let's keep Austin weird. Let's keep the Internet weird. Let's keep the Internet free."

As much as I deeply, deeply despise every song ever recorded and released by the Black Eyed Peas, I am still not convinced. Net neutrality or no, the all-Black Eyed Peas future of my nightmares is not in any way upon us, praise Pitchfork. If anything, most signs point to an info-drenched future in which the Internet continues to expand the unique commercial and non-commercial ways that individuals can express themselves, make friends, create art, goof off, and generally have a grand old time doing whatever the hell they please. As for the existential threat of prioritized web traffic services, they're no more a threat to artists and individualists of any political stripe than prioritized deliveries via UPS or FedEx were a threat to anything other than mail-delivery's inefficient, government-run incumbent. If there's anything like a digital apocalypse nigh (and I don't think there is), it's in the possibility that federal bureaucrats—or worse, clueless politicians like Franken—might be put in charge of the way the Internet is run.

Watch Reason.tv on net neutrality: