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Huffington Post Op-Ed: Net Neutrality is Under Attack… Again

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
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This week, the free and open Internet millions of Americans have come to depend on is under attack.

This week, the free and open Internet millions of Americans have come to depend on is under attack.

In a procedural move, Senate Republicans are trying to overturn the rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put in place late last year to help protect net neutrality--the simple idea that all content and applications on the Internet should be treated the same, regardless of who owns the content or the website. The House already pushed through this dangerous legislation, which would effectively turn control of the Internet over to a handful of very powerful corporations.

I sincerely hope the Senate doesn't follow suit, and I'm doing everything I can to make sure this terrible legislation never reaches the President's desk.

While millions of Americans have become familiar with the concept of net neutrality, it's important that we're all on the same page. Net neutrality isn't a government takeover of the Internet, as many of my Republican colleagues have alleged. It isn't even a change from what we have now. Net neutrality has been in place since the very beginning of the Internet.

This isn't a radical concept - it's what each and every one of us experiences every time we use the Internet. Right now, an e-mail from a friend arrives in your inbox just as quickly and reliably as an advertisement from Amazon.com. Consumers can go online and make a reservation at a small fishing lodge in Ely, Minnesota just as quickly as they can at the Hilton.

But many Republicans want to change that so that the large corporations they represent can increase their profit margins at the expense of small businesses and consumers.

To illustrate why net neutrality is so critical to innovation on the web, I like to tell the story of a small online startup that launched in 2005 above a pizzeria in San Francisco. It had a product that now seems simple: it allowed people to upload videos so others could stream them. It was called YouTube - you may have heard of it.

At the time, Google had a similar product - Google Video - but it wasn't as easy to use, so consumers took their business to YouTube. The site took off and, less than two years after it launched, YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.6 billion. Not a bad payday.

But it wouldn't have been possible without net neutrality. If Google had been able to pay Comcast and other large Internet service providers to prioritize its data - and make YouTube's videos load more slowly - YouTube wouldn't have stood a chance. Google's inferior product would have won.

Last year, the FCC took action to protect net neutrality, establishing a set of rules designed to preserve the status quo - the rules under which YouTube and thousands of other startups flourished. While those rules didn't do nearly as much as I would have liked to protect consumers, encourage innovation, and keep the Internet fully free, they at least laid a foundation to preserve the basic principles of net neutrality.

These are the rules Republicans in the House have already voted to overturn. This week, my Republican colleagues in the Senate will attempt to short circuit the legislative process by forcing a procedural vote and ignoring the FCC's expertise on this issue. They hope to abolish net neutrality and give their supporters in big telecom what they want: an unfair advantage over small businesses and bigger profits at the expense of consumers.

I've said that net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time. It's true. If Republicans have their way, large corporations won't just have the loudest voices in the room. They'll be able to effectively silence everyone else.

Every small business they'd prefer not to compete with. Every blogger who publishes something they don't like.

We have to stop them.

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