Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota criticized a draft set of Internet traffic rules Friday, portraying the Federal Communications Commission proposal as a threat to unfettered access to online applications and content.
The "net neutrality" proposal is designed to prevent broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against Internet traffic flowing over their networks.
But the Democrat told The Associated Press that the proposed rules are too loose and could turn mobile Internet services into the "wild west," allowing providers to discriminate against rival content. He said the draft rules would also let broadband providers give their own online traffic or other favored traffic priority over other online services. Franken urged the FCC to overhaul the proposal.
Since he took office in July 2009, Franken has pushed to force network providers to allow open access to legal content, without favoring one service over another. He opposed the merger of Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal TV, saying their combination is the beginning of a consolidation of Internet service providers that will lead to more corporate control of online content.
"Ultimately I see a world where we have four or five companies controlling everything, with all their interests aligned and their interests will not be net neutrality," Franken said.
He added: "I fear for the flow of information in this country."
In his letter to the FCC, Franken said the current proposal hypothetically could allow a provider such as Verizon to suddenly block Netflix streaming video on iPads because it offers its own video service, V CAST.
Franken said the proposed FCC rules don't go far enough, and Congress ultimately may have to step in.
"I really do think there's going to have to be net neutrality legislation," he said.
But Franken acknowledged it could be tough to get that passed after Republicans take over the House next month. Republicans are strongly opposed to the net neutrality proposal, which they see as an attempt to regulate the Internet.
The plan was drafted by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, one of three Democrats on the five-member commission.
Large phone and cable companies including AT&T and Comcast are lending tepid support to the proposal, which is set for a vote on Dec. 21. (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)