MN Townhall on the Future of the Internet April 20, 2010 Comments of Margaret Kaplan
My  name  is  Margaret  Kaplan  and  I  live  in  Saint  Paul  Minnesota.    I  am  with  the  Minnesota  Center  for   Neighborhood  Organizing.    We  are  based  at  the  Center  for  Urban  and  Regional  Affairs  at  the  U  of  M  and   are  we  are  a  member  of  MAGNet,  the  Media  Action  Grassroots  Network,  a  national  group  of   organizations  working  on  issues  of  media  justice.       The  goal  of  our  work  is  to  strengthen  neighborhoods  though  engagement  of  everybody  to  work  together   on  issues  that  they  care  about.    We  want  to  ensure  that  when  decisions  are  made  everyone  has  a  place   at  the  table.    However,  increasingly,  the  table  as  become  a  virtual  marketplace  of  ideas.    For  low  income   communities,  communities  of  color,  and  immigrant  communities,  this  can  create  yet  another  set  of   barriers  to  meaningful  civic  engagement.       For  example,  last  year  the  park  board  proposed  a  new  soccer  field  in  a  south  Minneapolis  park.    Online   message  boards  began  to  light  up  with  opposition  to  the  proposal.    The  message  boards  had  been   around  for  several  years  and  were  a  well  established  method  of  discussing  neighborhood  issues  and   concerns.    Neighbors,  public  officials,  and  even  members  of  the  media  looked  at  the  message  boards  as   a  way  of  gauging  the  temperature  of  the  community  on  neighborhood  issues.    However,  the  message   boards  were  a  point  of  civic  engagement  for  only  some  people  in  the  community.    A  group  of  Latino   youth  and  their  families  very  much  wanted  the  soccer  fields  in  their  local  park,  but  were  not  part  of  the   online  community  that  was  discussing  the  issues  and  shaping  public  policy  and  public  opinion.    This   wasn’t  by  design,  but  lack  of  affordable  internet  access,  language  accessibility  issues,  and  digital  literacy   concerns  created  a  system  where  there  were  unequal  opportunities  for  people  to  share  their  vision  for   the  community.      Ultimately,  because  the  families  wanted  to  be  involved  in  shaping  the  issues,  they  used   postcards,  newspapers,  radio,  and  public  meetings  to  enter  the  public  dialogue  and  come  up  with  a   solution  that  everyone  could  live  with.    However,  more  and  more  often,  from  public  comments  to   government  agencies  to  information  about  polling  places,  opportunities  for  civic  engagement  are   disappearing  into  the  online  world.       This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  access.    This  is  not  about  wires  in  the  ground  or  a  signal  in  the  sky.    It  is   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.  

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