Al Franken: Prepare for ‘Political Censorship’

Today the FCC is set to pass new internet rules, prompting critics like Al Franken to warn it could enable ‘political censorship.’ President Obama once championed true net neutrality, but his administration is praising the FCC’s new proposal. So what changed? Could it be Wikileaks, perhaps?

Al Franken: Prepare for 'Political Censorship'

President Obama was supposed to be our first internet president. Sure, he famously refused to ditch his Blackberry on inauguration becoming the first prez with a smartphone (every president through George W. eschewed sending emails personally since it was viewed as a security risk), but today Obama’s administration is ready to praise the FCC’s proposal for net neutrality that would actually make the internet decidedly un-neutral.

As Huffington Post points out Obama once promised to “take a back seat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” However, the FCC’s proposed internet rules boast two gaping, giant obstacles to neutrality: First, it would allow the telecom companies to block any apps and services they want from the mobile internet (except ones that compete with their services, because that would qualify as anti-trust behavior). Second, for the non-mobile web, it would allow telecoms to charge sites a fee for decent load times, relegating non-paying sites to ‘slow lanes’ which would make it harder for readers to access them. Both are serious blows to the whole idea of “neutrality.”

So what happened? Why is the idea of preserving true net neutrality, which was once a major priority for the Obama Administration, being dialed back?

One clue may come via Al Franken, a detractor of the FCC’s proposal. As reported by New York Times, Al Franken recently gave a speech on the Senate floor, in which he said:

“If corporations are allowed to prioritize content on the Internet, or they are allowed to block applications you access on your iPhone, there is nothing to prevent those same corporations from censoring political speech.”

Bingo. President Obama was widely reported to be “furious” about WikiLeaks’ latest embarrassing revelations, and everyone from Attorney General Eric Holder to Sen. Joe Liebermann scrambled to try to find a way to shut down WikiLeaks without violating that pesky First Amendment or appearing to engage in the kind of all-out political censorship practiced in China.

Regulating the internet is veiled as a win for consumers. President Obama’s CTO praised the FCC’s new internet rules as an “important step in preventing abuses and continuing to advance the Internet as an engine of productivity growth and innovation.” This kind of “regulation is for your own good” attitude sounds terrifyingly like China’s approach to regulating its currency and political climate.

It could be that Eric Holder and Joe Liebermann (and apparently Obama himself, although he seems to be keeping a low profile about it) have found their answer to WikiLeaks. What’s the best way to control the internet and prevent gaffes like WikiLeaks from seeping into the public? Call it “net neutrality” and tell people it’s for their own good.

It’s an Orwellian and—you’ve got to hand it to them—brilliant strategy. The big question is whether the public will be wise enough to see through the scheme and revolt to prevent the new rules from taking hold. A truly free internet has been the single most important democratizing and globalizing force in the 21st century. There’s a reason why oligarchies like Iran and China have created systems to control what’s visible to their citizens online. If oligarchies like America follow suit, we will inevitably come to resemble those societies we outwardly criticize. This will be a failure of freedom, since in the 21st century it’s become clear that true freedom equals people sharing ideas, not governments metering out people’s ability to communicate.

Al Franken is right. The FCC’s proposed net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time. Over two million people have joined an initiative to “Save The Internet.” Check it out, and be prepared to raise your voice when the FCC passes the new rules—which it inevitably will—for net neutrality. The new rules will not be for your own good, no matter what they say. Trust us. Or trust Al Franken. But don’t be duped.