Sen. Al Franken headed to Austin, Texas, on Monday to speak about net neutrality at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, one of the largest film, music and interactive gatherings. In his speech, Franken said that net neutrality is important for many of the artists who showcase their talents at SXSW and that maintaining the current structure of the internet will help keep it “weird” — a reference to the festival host city’s informal slogan.
Franken called the internet “the ultimate self-distribution channel; the best part is that no one has to sell out unless they want to.”
The Minnesota Democrat warned that if the structure of the internet were to change, independent artists would have a hard time getting heard.
“I came here today to warn you that the party may almost be over,” he said. “They are coming after the internet hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important tool for indie artists and entrepreneurs: its freedom and openness.”
He explained what the term means. “Net neutrality means that content… moves over the internet freely and moves at the same speed no matter what it is or who owns it,” he said. “For instance, an email from President Obama and an email from your tea party uncle come in at the same speed.”
He added that opponents of net neutrality often say that proponents want to change the internet.
“We have net neutrality right now and we don’t want to lose it. It’s not about changing the internet at all,” he said.
He said the problem exists when corporations decide to allow certain content to be transmitted at one speed and other content at other speeds.
“Big corporations are not inherently evil, but they have a legal obligation to make as much money as they can,” he said. “Paid prioritization would make these corporations gatekeepers to decide which content goes in the high speed lane and which gets stuck in traffic depending on who paid.”
He added that lobbyists are derailing efforts to prevent paid prioritization. “Every policymaker in Washington is hearing much more from the anti-net neutrality side than the side without lobbyists,” he said. “But everyone has more to fear from these big corporations than from us. It would benefit no one but them.”
“Let’s not sell out,” he concluded. “Let’s not let the government sell us out. Let’s fight for net neutrality. Let’s keep Austin weird. Let’s keep the internet weird. Let’s keep the internet free.”
Minneapolis native Leif Utne of The UpTake spoke with Sen. Franken before the speech. “To me this is the First Amendment issue of our time,” he said. “The right seems to want to say that this is taking over the internet, but it’s not; it’s about keeping the internet the way it is.”
He provided an example, “You get The UpTake as fast as Fox News — and that’s the way it should be.”