US senator Al Franken has recently called on Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to follow net neutrality principles that are currently applies in the US to broadband companies. Speaking at an event in Washington DC, Franken said that ‘We must now begin a thorough examination of big tech’s practices in order to secure the free flow of information on the internet’. Later, in an open ed in the Guardian, titled ‘We must not let big tech threaten our security, freedoms and democracy’, the senator said that, as ‘tech giants become a new kind of Internet gatekeeper’, net neutrality rules should apply to them as well. Franken explained that Internet companies should not have ‘the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesn’t’, and, instead, ‘ should be “neutral” in their treatment of the flow of lawful information and commerce on their platforms’.
The Internet’s success lies in its design, which is based on the principle of net neutrality. From the outset, the flow of all the content on the Internet was treated without discrimination. New entrepreneurs did not need permission or market power to innovate on the Internet. With the development of new digital services, especially the ones consuming high bandwidth such as high-quality video streaming, some Internet operators (telecom companies and ISPs) started prioritising certain traffic – such as their own services or the services of their business partners – based on business needs and plans, justifying such an approach with a need to raise funds to further invest in the network. Net neutrality proponents strongly fight back such plans arguing this could limit open access to information and online freedoms, and stifle online innovation.