From a Latino leader in South Minneapolis, to a Seneca Nation elder, to a South Minneapolis hip-hop artist and organizer, to a rural newspaper editor, more than 700 Minnesotans demonstrated that the future of the Internet matters during an August 19th, 2010 Townhall with FCC Commissioners Copps and Clyburn—- while 1,100 more watched online through a live feed by the Uptake MN.
A welcome by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie set the tone, “…I know from my day-to-day activities that the Internet is essential for business development and civic participation. An open Internet provides Minnesotans with vital information about starting a business, registering to vote, who is on the ballot and so much more.”
This was within the first five minutes.
Over the course of the next three hours, more than 60 community members offered two-minutes testimonies to the FCC Commissioners on issues ranging from rural access to affordable urban service. Using powerful first-person narratives, they spoke to the direct role the Internet plays in securing jobs, finishing college degrees, ordering stock for their business and maintaining connections with family members. Coupled with a deep understanding of the importance of access, the testimonies (nearly across the board) also called on the FCC to regulate the “most powerful communication systems” of our time.
“…now, more than ever, people can watch and even participate in public meetings online. This means that more people, across the state, are able to follow and take part in activities at the State Capitol and elsewhere. This strengthens our democracy and helps MN to maintain its leading role in civic education and citizen engagement."
-Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie
Simultaneous Spanish translation and American Sign Language, as well as wireless mics (for the wheel-chair bound)—ensured a wide range of people were able to speak directly to the Commissioners in their own voices. The MN Townhall on the ‘Future of the Internet’ was a partnership between the Center for Media Justice, the Main Street Project and Free Press who wanted to provide an opportunity for those outside of Washington to share their ideas, experiences and concerns with the FCC.
It's not often that a large, Minneapolis high school is packed beyond fire-code—especially for a conversation about the Internet, of all things. Yet it should come as no surprise. Though the favored topic of the night was “net neutrality,” (the principle that the Internet should remain free of interference from service providers)—the conversation was down-to-earth, or what you might call “real talk"–i.e. an Open Internet is essential for affordable housing, quality public education, full employment and decent healthcare. No bits, no byts–zero wonk. I certainly appreciated it, and if the multiple standing-ovations, shout-outs, and hollers of support from the auditorium were any indication–the audience did too!
At the Center for Media Justice and our signature project MAG-Net—we believe that media policy needs to be people-centered and community-based. This means ensuring the Net Neutrality debate is grounded in the stories of every-day people who aren’t usually sitting at the decision-making table. The result of which, is an approach to Internet policy that calls for more than access, it demands justice.
Whether part of the actual audience or the steady stream of live "Tweets," its obvious this “people-centered approach” pumped new energy into the discussion, demonstrated a high-degree of unity and affirmed what we’ve been saying all along, "this debate ain't only for Telcos and nerds."
Take a minute and do your part, send a letter to the FCC now, and make sure your voice is heard!
For those of you who missed the event, here are some highlights from MAG-Net members and allies testimony:
"In Minnesota, the Internet has become an increasingly critical platform for jobs, education and health care,"
-Steven Renderos, Main Street Project
We want you to know that you have our own unfettered support in the battle to maintain the FCC as guardian of the public interest… and we will push hard on Congress to clarify your role in doing just that. There is no excuse for the sort of system of corporate domination our broadcast, cable, and telecommunications giants have established with less and less public oversight. We urge you to fight on for us and for your agency as we will fight for you in the halls of our capitals.
-Andy Driscoll, Truth to Tell Radio, KFAI
For me, the bottom line is this: fundamentally, I think net neutrality is a question of freedom, and I want an Internet that is as free as this country is.
-Arif Mamdani, Progressive Technology Project
“…from the perspective of Lao American refugees and their families, and many others, net neutrality is a key aspect of our effective stabilization and our route to rebuilding and recovery. We strongly encourage policies that preserve and enhance ease of access to information and services, rather than approaches that would restrict access and reduce our community to third and fourth-class citizens.
-Bryan Thao Worra, Lao Assistance Center
If The FCC Does not impose regulations protecting Internet users, and reasserting their authority over broadband and pass strong net neutrality, we compromise democracy and democratic participation while perpetuating disparities with staggering impacts. None of us here today want that on our hearts and minds.
-Chaka Mkali, HOPE Community
The previous November, a majority of [Cook County’s] citizens had actually approved building a community fiber network to create middle mile redundancy and last mile services. They even agreed to a small tax on themselves to help fund it. But MN law requires a super-majority of 65% for a community to build this kind of network. This is 5% more than the impossible 60% threshold in the US Senate. Such a restrictive law is great for incumbent companies who are protected from competition. Offering a single fiber line to Cook is a profitable decision for Qwest's shareholders. It is a disastrous decision for the community. This is why the FCC must stand up for all of us. States must not be allowed to cripple communities, forcing them to watch history pass them by.
-Chris Mitchell, Institute for Local Self Reliance
As a journalist, I’m concerned that many telecoms are also media sources or ally themselves with political groups. Their ability to restrict unwanted or unpopular news is very frightening. It smacks of censorship and big brother. Lack of FCC oversight and strong rules to preserve net neutrality will also set back the work of the People’s Press Project by creating a cast system in internet users– with those who can’t afford to pay, being left behind.
-Cindy Gomez, High Plains Reader
Access to the Internet is vital for people striving to regain stability in their lives. For instance, many employers now only accept only online applications. We urge you to support substantial investment in the creation of more “third spaces” that truly meet the communication and information needs of people for whom access at home is not a possibility. Libraries and existing technology centers are not able to provide enough Internet time and often have restrictions on tasks that most of us take for granted.
-Ed Petsche, Twin Cities Community Voicemail
This is not simply a matter of access. This is not about wires in the ground or a signal in the sky. It’s about the rights of people to engage in the civic process unhindered by excessive fees, and uncensored by ISPs. People who are marginalized through the digital divide today will only be further marginalized by systems that prioritize those who can pay higher premiums over those who cannot, those who have popular opinions over those who do not. The FCC has the power right now to prevent this from happening by restoring its authority to ensure a free and open internet.
-Margaret Kaplan, MN Center for Neighborhood Organizing