In a U.S. Senate debate Wednesday morning, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) gave an impassioned defense of network neutrality, the principle that mandates Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all Web traffic equally.

"Net Neutrality," as supporters have labeled it, was cemented into law by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 after years of campaigning by activists and major technology companies alike.

Facing a Republican effort to repeal "Net Neutrality," Franken stood up in the U.S. Senate and called the regulations "the free speech issue of our time."

"You may not realize it, but Net Neutrality is the foundation and core of how the Internet operates every day, and how it has always operated," he said. "When scientists and engineers were creating the basic architecture of the Internet, they decided they needed to establish some basic rules of the road for Internet traffic. One of the fundamental design principles of the Internet was that all data should be treated equally, regardless of what is being sent or who is sending it. That is Net Neutrality."

Franken explained that "Net Neutrality" is the reason websites for local pizza restaurants load just as fast as sites for Dominoes or Pizza Hut, adding that even YouTube owes its success to the Internet's decades old non-discrimination principle.

"When YouTube started out, it was headquartered in a tiny space over a pizzaria and a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, California," he continued. "At the time, Google had a competing product, Google Video, that was widely seen as inferior. Now, if Google had been able to pay AT&T or Verizon or Time Warner large amounts of money to block YouTube, or to make Google Video's website faster than YouTube's site, guess what would have happened: YouTube would have failed.

"But instead, thanks to Net Neutrality, YouTube became the gold standard for video on the Internet. YouTube was able to sell its business to Google for $1.6 billion just two years after its start. I love that story, because it's a testament to the power of the Internet to turn people with great ideas into overnight successes, and it happened because we had Net Neutrality."

The measure before the Senate to roll back network neutrality regulations, though a cause célèbre for Republicans who see themselves as fighting overbearing regulations on network owners, has no chance of becoming law thanks to a veto threat by President Barack Obama.

Despite the hopeless nature of their push, Republicans led by outgoing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) insisted on taking up the matter, which Franken criticized as yet another unworkable "partisan" proposal that serves to divert lawmakers' attention away from job creation.

Watch this video from C-SPAN, broadcast Nov. 9, 2011.