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Al Franken Makes Senate Stand for Net Neutrality

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Sen. Al Franken took to the Senate floor late Wednesday to call on his colleagues to reject a House effort to take away our most basic Net Neutrality freedoms.

Last month, a Republican-led House voted on a "resolution of disapproval" that would strip the FCC of any authority to safeguard freedom of speech and freedom of choice on the Internet.

The House vote was a mistake, Sen. Franken said in an impassioned speech before an empty chamber. He vowed to fight the resolution (H.J. Res. 37) when it's taken up by fellow senators.

Net Neutrality "is a fundamental design principle" put in place at the inception of the Internet to ensure that everyone had equal access to information online, and that the network would foster innovation and ideas.

"We want to preserve that," Franken said, adding that Net Neutrality rules ensure "that the Internet that we know and love does not become corrupted and altered by a small number of large corporations controlling the last free and open distribution channel we have in this country."

A Diverse Net Neutrality Movement

After his speech, Franken received 87,000 letters from Free Press activists (including 2,000 Minnesotans) opposing the House's effort to undo the FCC's open Internet rules.

"I am confident that as more Americans realize what is at stake here, that we will hear from more and more constituents who will ask us to protect them from a corporate takeover of the Internet," he said.

To stop H.J. Res. 37 in the Senate, we need at least 50 other senators to join Franken's defense of online rights.

Net Neutrality used to be a bipartisan issue that seemed obvious to everyone, Franken said, citing past support from Senate Republicans, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and groups as diverse as the Christian Coalition, MoveOn.org and the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Keeping the Internet's Most Basic Principle

"This is not a radical concept," Franken said yesterday, "but the House wants to change all of that and effectively turn control of the Internet over to a handful of very powerful corporations."

Franken gave credit to Net Neutrality opponents, "who have done a masterful job of manipulation the American public into believing that Net Neutrality is something that it is not."

"Net Neutrality is not about a 'government takeover of the Internet,'" he said. "That is 180 degrees opposite of the truth."

Franken was referring to a recent speech by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said that the "new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet."

Citizens United, Net Neutrality and Corporate Spin

Net Neutrality is the fundamental idea that we all should be able to connect to one another and all of the websites on the Internet... that our network provider should only provide us with a connection and get out of our way. Net Neutrality rules are a light regulatory touch to keep these freedoms in place.

This concept was baked into the Internet's DNA at its inception, and is the reason it grew to become a powerful engine of free speech, equal opportunity and economic innovation.

Despite that, Franken expressed concern about the power that corporations wield in Washington to spin such an obvious benefit into something sinister.

"We have always known that large corporations have the power to influence elections. And then last year, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United took a situation that was already terrible and made it worse, much worse," he said.

"Now AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast can spend unlimited amounts of money to support the candidate, candidates or campaigns that they care the most about, or to try to weaken or kill Net Neutrality."

Fighting Corporate Money with People Power

AT&T alone spent $15.3 million on campaign contributions in one year and employed more than 90 full-time lobbyists to influence Congress. Its contributions to PR firms like Arts & Labs, Astroturf front groups like Americans for Prosperity, and coin-operated think tanks like the Phoenix Center are designed to insulate legislators with a false sense of consensus regarding its policy objectives.

"How can American consumers stuck with rising cable, Internet and cell phone bills ever be expected to counter that type of lobbying power?" Franken asked.

Last year, as the FCC was deciding on the Net Neutrality rules now in question, more than two million Americans sent letters to Washington urging elected officials and the FCC "to stand with the public by protecting Net Neutrality once and for all."

As more Americans voice their concerns about this new threat to the Internet, we must make certain that our senators hear us before it's too late.

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