Telecom lobbyists are driving efforts in the House to overturn rules aimed at guaranteeing equal speed for all on the Internet, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on Monday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is beginning consideration of a Republican-led effort to change the Federal Communications Commission regulations, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday.
Franken has introduced legislation with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to make net neutrality law and not simply an FCC regulation, and said he has introduced a bill that would allow violations of net neutrality to be prosecuted under antitrust law.
Franken attacked the companies that he says support the changes so they can make more money.
"We have net neutrality right now. And we don't want to lose it. That's all. The fight for net neutrality isn't about improving the Internet. It's not about changing the Internet at all. It's about ensuring that it stays just the way it is," Franken said in a speech to the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
"And the big telecom companies make lots and lots of money off their ownership of the Internet-but they've figured out a way to make more."
Franken said this so-called paid prioritization would create a "high-speed lane" for corporations that can pay for it. "This would make these corporations gatekeepers of the Internet, with the power to decide what content can get to its intended audience in the high-speed lane and what content gets stuck in traffic, depending on what makes the most money for their shareholders," he said.
"And just as you pay extra to get HBO or Showtime on your cable package, we've seen reports that telecom companies might consider dividing the Internet into tiers the same way-you'd pay a base fee for a few sites, and more if you want to be able to get to others."
Internet providers have denied this but Franken said they plan to do so.
"Unfortunately, one thing the big corporations have that we don't is the ability to purchase favorable political outcomes," he said. "All industries have lobbyists-but the big telecoms have lots of them, and good ones, too. On top of that, last year's Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns without disclosing any of it."
Franken said the lobbyists are out-shouting supporters of net neutrality.
Comcast said Franken incorrectly named that company in his remarks. "Comcast is not lobbying to change the FCC net neutrality rules and in fact is bound by the Comcast NBCUniversal FCC transaction Order to abide by the Open Internet (net neutrality) rules for 7 years even if the rules are overturned in court," Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president for government communications for Comcast, said by email.
This FCC transaction order was issued in January as part of Comcast's merger with NBC Universal and requires the company to maintain fair Internet access.