Franken: Edge Providers Need Net Neutrality Rules

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says that powerful edge providers are becoming a new type of internet gatekeeper--a label he has long applied to internet service providers--and should be subject to strong and enforceable network neutrality rules.

That came in a speech at the Open Markets Institute in Washington.

"Net neutrality should apply here," he said. "No one company should have the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesn't, and Facebook, Google, and Amazon, like ISPs, should be neutral in their treatment of the flow of lawful information and commerce on their platforms."

He said their dominance in the realm of information now "requires that we consider their role in the integrity of our democracy." He said last week's hearings on Russian interference in the election demonstrated that those companies "may not be up to the challenge they have created for themselves."

Franken, who participated in that Judiciary Committee hearing, was not happy that the fact that some of those Russian online ads were paid for in rubles had not been a sufficient red flag. "The platforms may not have become so large and unruly that we can't trust the platforms to get it right even when they do start paying attention."

He said that while he continues to fight to preserve the Title II-based Open Internet Order--FCC Chairman Pai is expected to circulate the order rolling back Title II by the end of the month--"we must also begin a thorough examination of Big Tech practices in order to secure the free flow of information on the internet."

Related: FCC Creates Downloadable Net Neutrality Docket Files

Franken is concerned about the Russian influence on the election through those social media platforms, but said the bigger question is how Big Tech "has come to control so many aspects of our lives."

He said he hoped regulators and more of his colleagues on Capitol Hill would start paying more attention to the issue of Big Tech and net neutrality and "ensure those companies don not endanger our national security, our democracy or our fundamental freedoms."

He said government needs to look at how Google's purchases, like DoubleClick, or Facebook purchases, like Instagram have impacted Big Tech's ability to establish barriers to entry for emerging rivals.

He said that should include investigations, hearings, and other vigorous oversight.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.