Op-Ed: A Bill of Rights for the Online World

This week, Americans will gather with friends and family at barbecues, parades, and parties to celebrate the vision that our Founders put in motion over 200 years ago. Americans hold dear the core freedoms that were established at our nation’s founding, including the freedom of expression and the idea of a free and open marketplace where competition drives innovation. In the 21st Century, these freedoms have been enhanced by one of the greatest tools ever created: the Internet.

The Internet has flourished into a central force in so many of our lives precisely because it has reflected our Founders’ vision. Like our nation, the Internet was founded on the principles of openness and competition. It has become the ultimate marketplace of ideas, where everyone has a voice and the best products or services succeed based on their own merit. But like our country, which is protected by a Bill of Rights that guarantees our basic freedoms, the Internet needs concrete, fundamental protections to ensure that it is not abused by those with the power to do so. That is why I was gravely disappointed when the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 open Internet rules and why in the Senate, I am fighting to protect a free and open Internet.

Open Internet principles are the Bill of Rights for the online world. We should not allow an Internet that is divided into “haves” and “have-nots,” where those who can afford to pay drown out the voices of those who cannot. Last month, I joined with Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California in introducing legislation to require the FCC to ban pay-to-play deals online. Pay-to-play arrangements would distort the open ecosystem that makes the Internet the unparalleled platform it is today.

The FCC is now considering how best to restore open Internet protections. Since FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler began a proceeding to consider new open Internet rules, nearly 300,000 Americans have commented on his proposal. The message is loud and clear: Americans want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, and where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than on money.

The outcome of this debate will have a profound effect on startups, entrepreneurs, community voices, and consumers. Our actions in the United States send a message to other nations around the world. Let us stand for an open Internet where all may have their voices heard.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is holding a field hearing on Net Neutrality at the University of Vermont on July 1, 2014.

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