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It Was Close, But We Won: Viva Net Neutrality!

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A computer screen icon.
Sandra Fulton,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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November 10, 2011

Today in the Senate there was a major win for freedom of speech and the Internet. In a largely partisan vote Senate Democrats defeated a resolution introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) which would have overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) open Internet rules that are set to go into effect this month.

Though the FCC’s rules are not great, they do offer some protections for net neutrality on the wired Internet and overturning them would have been a huge setback for free speech on the web. During debate on the Senate floor yesterday supporters of the resolution railed against government regulation while opponents defended the rules saying they were necessary to maintain the openness and innovation that has allowed the Internet to thrive.

Those who supported the resolution repeatedly and falsely claimed that net neutrality represents a heavy-handed government takeover of the Internet that would quell innovation. The opposite is true. Fortunately, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) were there to set the record straight.

The senators explained that the FCC’s rules only formalize the open Internet principles that have guided the Internet to date and ensured the level playing field that has allowed small businesses to meaningful compete with large corporations. This principle is what has allowed small start-ups like YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr to become the kind of massive success stories that revive the American dream. As Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pointed out, if Google or other online video sites would have been able to pay off Verizon or Comcast to slow or even block traffic to YouTube they never would have had a chance.

Sens. Franken and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) spoke on the floor about the critical free speech issues involved in this debate. Franken said he believed net neutrality to be the “free speech issue of our time” as the Internet has become the soap box of the 21st century. He explained that protestors are no longer using poster board to display their messages but instead they are posting to Twitter and Facebook to communicate and organize. Udall highlighted the vital role an open Internet played in the Arab Spring. He challenge opponents of net neutrality by asking what message America would be sending the rest of the world if it removed regulations put in place to guarantee free speech and open access online.

As opponents of this resolution explained on the floor yesterday, the Internet has thrived under basic net neutrality rules. They successfully argued that by denying the FCC’s ability to cement these commons sense rules, a handful of corporations controlling access to the Internet and having both the technical means and the financial incentives to interfere with the free flow of information would do so.

We would like to thank our champions of free speech for standing up to defend the FCC’s rules on the floor yesterday and protecting our First Amendment rights online.

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