Al Franken’s Internet

CNet’s Maggie Reardon interviewed Sen. Al Franken before he delivered his speech on net neutrality at SXSW. Here we see the Senator fumbling two basic questions about the Internet:

Q: There are no official Net neutrality regulations today, and yet people with Internet service in the U.S. can go to any Web site they want. There have been no complaints of providers blocking traffic or preventing people from accessing content, so what exactly is your fear?

Franken: I’m concerned about the concentration of ownership over the pipes. And I’m worried about the stated intention or desire of the big providers to implement paid prioritization. That would really change the rules of the road. My desire is to essentially keep the rules of the road the same for the Internet so that we can continue to have an open and free Internet.

There are fewer and fewer Internet service providers that own the pipes of the Internet. And they want to set up a fast lane so that you get information and they want content owners to pay them to deliver their traffic.

But service providers already offer paid prioritization services to businesses. They have for years. How is this different?

Franken: I’m talking about consumer services. If you are home and you have Internet access from Comcast, you get e-mails from your crazy uncle as fast as you get them from President Obama. What I am afraid of is that service providers are going to charge content owners. I can pay for coach ticket or first class. And that means that the normal consumer is not getting all information at the same speed. If you look at how YouTube was started over a pizza shop, if GoogleTV had been able to pay for faster service there would be no YouTube. What I am saying is that this would kill innovation. I want to keep the Internet the way it’s been so that consumers get material on a neutral basis.

I’m even less impressed with the Senator’s grasp of the Internet than I was previously. This “paid prioritization” idea seems to really throw him for a loop, as it does most of the naive neutralists. It’s not really a matter of making one guy’s e-mail faster than another (would you even notice?), it a question of enabling non-web services that need to be either quicker or cheaper than standard service. Is that idea really so hard to understand?

Reardon’s a great interviewer, by the way.

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