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MINNEAPOLIS -- It was standing room only at South High in Minneapolis on Thursday night, as more than 750 people turned out to show their support for Network Neutrality and free speech online. FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn listened to hours of impassioned public testimony about the future of the Internet.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie were also on hand to speak at the public hearing organized by Free Press, the Center for Media Justice and Main Street Project. Over a thousand more people watched the hearing online, thanks to Minnesota citizen journalists The Uptake.

Franken, who called Net Neutrality the “First Amendment issue of our time” in a recent speech, urged the FCC to protect Internet users and prevent discrimination online.

“We can’t let companies write the rules that we the people are supposed to follow,” Franken said. “If that happens, those rules will be written only to protect corporations. I urge the FCC to oppose any efforts to undermine Net Neutrality and to impede the flow of information online.”

Franken also made a strong call for the FCC to oppose the proposed Comcast-NBC merger, citing the negative evidence of the impact of media consolidation on the marketplace of ideas.

Copps called on his colleagues at the FCC to take steps to restore the agency’s authority to regulate broadband and protect Internet users. He also weighed in on the controversial Internet policy proposals recently put forward by Google and Verizon.

“I suppose you can’t blame companies for seeking to protect their own interests,” he said. “But you can blame policy-makers if we let them get away with it. Deal-making between big Internet players is not policy-making for the common good. Special interests are not the public interest. Stockholders are not the only stakeholders. I will not settle — you should not settle — for gatekeepers of the Internet striking deals that exchange Internet freedom for bloated profits on their quarterly reports to Wall Street.”

Commissioner Clyburn emphasized the importance of expanding broadband infrastructure and called the open Internet “the great equalizer.” “It has been said that the Internet has as democratizing effect as the printing press,” she said. “It enables under represented groups, including minorities and women, to have an opportunity to be heard.”

Amalia Deloney, grassroots policy director with the Center for Media Justice, reminded the audience that even as the Internet has become a vital tool for every day life, millions still lack access. “We are here because the future of the Internet is in jeopardy,” Deloney said. “More and more, U.S. residents are going online to conduct day-to-day activities like paying bills, going to school, searching for jobs, or researching health care. We need Chairman Genachowski to re-establish the FCC’s authority over the communications system of the 21st century.”

While debates over technology policy are often held behind closed doors or riddled with jargon, the huge turnout and energetic crowd in Minneapolis demonstrated deep public concern over where the Internet is headed.

“The number of people in the audience tonight, and watching online reminds us all that the debate over the future of the Internet is not just for techies, bloggers or geeks,” said Free Press president Josh Silver. “It is about nothing less than the future of all communications and democracy itself. As Internet speeds increase, television, radio, phone service, and technologies we never dreamed of will be delivered by a high speed Internet connection. As goes the Internet goes journalism, education, entertainment, community engagement, innovation and our economy.”

The hearing can be viewed in its entirety on the Web at

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