(Please welcome Senator John Kerry, who joins us in the comments — jh)

I realize there’s a certain primary in Pennsylvania on Tuesday that a lot of people are thinking about -– myself included (in fact, I’ll be on the ground there again tomorrow) — but one of the things I think those of us in the Senate need to do is try to keep some focus on another big event that day which we can’t afford to get lost in the shuffle because it affects net neutrality.

The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday to look at the future of the Internet, and a big part of that equation is net neutrality.

Obviously — and I know you don’t need to hear it from me — we need to keep up the pressure on this issue. The uncertainty isn’t helpful, and we have to set the rules of the road and protect the innovative world of a free and open Internet.

When we held hearings previously about net neutrality, many of us who were pushing for it warned that without net neutrality we’d start to have problems as companies started making their own rules on what they would allow to happen on their networks. And it turns out we were right.

Just this winter, we heard reports that Comcast was blocking traffic that was using the popular file-sharing program BitTorrent. Comcast initially denied this, but when engineers proved it was happening, Comcast was forced to admit the truth — they were blocking traffic around a particular program.

And this wasn’t just Comcast – there have been incidents reported involving AT&T and Verizon as well.

Eventually, after a lot of public pressure, Comcast cut a deal with one company providing BitTorrent services to allow their traffic, and they called that an example of the market working.

That’s a cautionary tale. We can’t allow companies to pick and choose what companies they allow to access their networks, and we certainly can’t depend on overwhelming political pressure on every decision to keep the networks open. This is not good for the future of the Internet and, frankly, it’s not good for anyone who uses it either.

Sure, it’s amazing that this remains an issue, but that’s not surprising because there are big corporate interests involved and they’re doing what they do — they’re looking out for their own agendas. But there are bigger issues at stake than any single interest’s proprietary concerns: the value of innovation on the Internet has shown itself in a ton of ways. From the economic value of new Internet applications and new market opportunities to the political and social value of new modes of organization, the free flow of information on the Internet has never been more important. And we need clear rules of the road for everyone to follow.

Look, this doesn’t mean we’re going to apply a prescriptive, heavy-handed bureaucratic approach to how network providers are permitted to serve subscribers. But we need to insist on basic fairness and an open, content-neutral approach to how users can access the backbone of our telecommunications system. There have been a lot of excuses about why it’s difficult to do that, and frankly, most of those excuses have turned out not to be accurate. There’s no reason why we can’t do this, and no reason why we shouldn’t.

But — and I say this all the time on so many issues — it’s not going to happen unless we all make it happen. Because of the importance of the PA primary, there’s a danger that this hearing can come and go without the people’s voice being heard. You need to make sure it is heard. Call, write or email your Senator and let them know you are watching this debate, and that an open internet is important to you. And now let’s have a good discussion.