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The "other" big event tomorrow

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Originally posted on dailykos.com 

I understand you all are pretty interested in a vote happening in Pennsylvania tomorrow. Not surprisingly, I'm focused on that, too – I spent Saturday in Pennsylvania for Barack - but there's a very important event happening tomorrow which we can't afford to have lost in the shuffle.

The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on the future of the Internet, and a big part of that equation is net neutrality. I know net neutrality is important to a lot of you here, but Senators haven't heard from you in a while on the issue, and I want to make sure we keep this front and center - it's that important.

Last Friday, I did a liveblog at Firedoglake, and I talked about how some of the big network providers have run into some problems trying to manage traffic using their own rules. The one you've probably heard the most about is the dispute over Comcast and BitTorrent, but this is hardly the only incident to occur since we last took a look at this issue in the Senate.

These actions by the big providers are a cautionary tale. We can't allow companies to pick and choose what companies they allow to access their networks, and we certainly can't depend on overwhelming political pressure on every decision to keep the networks open. This is not good for the future of the Internet and, frankly, it's not good for anyone who uses it either.

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We need to have clarity on these rules. The value of innovation on the Internet is just too high to have it affected by these kinds of messes. From the economic value of the Internet activity to the social value of the new models of organization (like this blog), the free flow of information on the Internet is a vital part of this nation's future.

Look, I understand that there are issues with the amount of information flowing over our broadband infrastructure. But the key is to expand that infrastructure, not arbitrarily restrict traffic based on content. I don't even really blame the corporations on this; this is a classic case where the government needs to step in and create sensible regulations to set the rules of the road. This doesn't mean a prescriptive, heavy-handed approach to telling providers who to serve subscribers. But we need to insist on basic fairness and an open, content-neutral approach to how users can access the backbone of our telecommunications system. There have been a lot of excuses about why it's difficult to do that, and frankly, most of those have turned out not to be accurate. There's no reason why we can't do this, and no reason why we shouldn't.

But -- I said this on FDL, and I say this all the time on so many issues -- it's not going to happen unless we all make it happen. Because of the importance of the PA primary, there's a danger that this hearing can come and go without the people's voice being heard. You need to make sure it is heard. Call, write or email your Senator and let them know you are watching this debate, and that an open internet is important to you.

update: I need to jump on a plane and go to New York, but I wanted to add one point to respond to some comments I saw. A number of people talked about expanding broadband infrastructure, and that's really the main point of this issue. The talk about network management involves scarcity, a discussion on how to manage traffic over an overloaded infrastructure. It's not too complicated to see that the solution isn't to restrict traffic but to expand capacity. George W. Bush promised to a national broadband plan by the end of 2007, but that's just another mission not accomplished by this President. We don't even have good data on the problem.

The focus on restricting traffic instead of expanding capacity is just another example of the lack of vision our government labored under for too many years under the GOP. It's time we start focusing on moving this country forward again with smart, progressive policies.

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Senator from MA, former presidential candidate

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The "other" big event tomorrow