Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Between You and God: The Spinning Wheel of Death

This post was written by OC Inc. Policy Advisor Cheryl Leanza and was originally posted on the Patheos Blog.

I am so grateful to Kimberly for offering a chance to guest blog here. As I am sure many of you do, I admire Kimberly’s writing so much — she brings the real struggle that we all experience to life in her posts — giving me energy to face my own struggles. I work for the UCC’s media justice ministry, and for me Kimberly’s work is such a great example of how the online world is as much a real community as any community I have in person. Today is a great day for me to post because this week is an important week for the Internet – the Federal Communications Commission is voting on the future of the Internet this week, and we expect Congress to get involved right after.

Through the Internet, many people find community with other people who believe the same things they do, validation at times when we’re in desperate need of support. We can find God in the electrons when we come together looking for human connection. Kimberly’s example is one of the important reasons why the UCC’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., has placed such a high priority on fighting for net neutrality, and why we co-founded Faithful Internet. The Internet creates human connection in miraculous ways that were not possible only a few years ago, and I firmly believe that as we move into more and more online spaces that mimic close interpersonal connections, more and more people will find meaning and relationships with each other and their faith communities.

Great examples abound. I know Kimberly started some of her online ministry insecond life, and I was just enjoying a great blog post interviewing Becca Kelstrom, who is a real life pastor, but also helps run a UCC church in second life today about how she welcomes and offers support to visitors in second life. And in the last year the United Church of Christ created Extravagance UCC, an online congregation, designed to reach people that don’t attend a traditional church. One of the driving reasons behind Extravagance is the UCC’s deeply held belief that we want to welcome all people to our community — Jesus taught to welcome everyone — and the UCC has been a leader in demonstrating we believe that the LGBTQ community is as welcome and blessed in God’s eyes as anyone. And yet, many people who we hope could find a home with us may have had many bad experiences in brick and mortar churches in the past. Perhaps, an online community could be a door that would be easier to enter for someone with years of hurt and anxiety about his or her sexual orientation and religion.

But to create a truly intimate and connected online space –where people can meet each other and the technology falls away, where the connection between people supersedes the technology used to connect–we’re going to need to use the most modern platforms. Today, participants connect in Extravagance using zoom online video chats. As it expands, it is my d

ream Extravagance will connect using more and more advanced video and high-intensity technology. As a church venturing down this path, that a few others have trod successfully ahead of us–folks like Darkwood Brew and the Unitarian’s Church of the Larger Fellowship, the UCC is marshalling all of our scarce resources to develop worship, master technology, find the people who would find meaning and friendship in our community. While we know we have to compete with the myriad other things in people’s lives, from their busy schedules to their fears to the doubts, so far, however, we’ve been able to rest assured that if someone wants to join us on Sunday nights for online video bible study–they can as long as they have a computer and a broadband connection.

Like so many efforts at building community, we are reliant on the world around us, structures and decisions beyond our own efforts can put in front of us impenetrable walls. As so many Christians who are called to social justice–who look beyond the immediate needs of today to the structural barriers that result in inequity, poverty, fear, isolation. In our case, we’re reliant on an Internet that treats everyone equally — if someone wants to view our video feed, they can. Content from NBC or Amazon or Netflix rides on the same wires and is treated the same way as Extravagance Bible study. But as some of you have heard in this space before, technology policy is invading our utopian dream of an online space where all can meet as equals communing with each other and God. Because there is a danger that, in Washington DC, the law of the land could explicitly permit the big content folks to pay to be at the front of the line on the Internet.

Imagine, someone who is fearful, they haven’t been to church in years despite feeling the call to participate in a worship community, they think, “Well, maybe these Extravagance people could be OK, I’ll check them out.” The time for a service arrives, they log in, and — that little buffering circle of death is all they see. She’s waiting, and while waiting she starts to surf around on her phone — hey,Transparent comes through right away! “I can watch that show right now, and I’m already 10 minutes late for worship — I don’t want to start in the middle, maybe I’ll connect with God another day.” Or maybe that person does connect, but at the critical moment in the sermon, or a soaring sacred song–the spinning wheel pops up.

The moment is gone, community falls away and we’re left with a blank screen. Imagine that happening, not once in a while– but Every. Single. Time. Why? Because the big companies have deep pockets and they can pay big bucks to send their content faster, right away. The rest of us have to wait. God is lost to buffering.

Maybe you’ve never heard of “net neutrality” or maybe it’s old news. But net neutrality is the nick-name for a policy that will stop my nightmare scenario and protect all Internet content — make sure that everyone is treated fairly online. Net neutrality might sound like a far-away issue for nerds and big companies. But it’s not, and it’s not even only a concern for those of us creating faith communities online. The Internet is essential these days, whether it is a web site telling people when service starts on Sunday or a Mosque letting people know that a neighbor is ill and needs a hand, whether it’s a pastor demonstrating the vitality and humanity of young African Americans in her neighborhood in response to Ferguson, or Birth Justice doulas helping women deliver babies in prison. Research shows that increasing load times by as little as 100 millisecondssignificantly reduces the amount of time people spend on a site. A small delay means a big problem.

This is why I’m so proud of our work to demonstrate the importance of net neutrality to everyone and to work for the UCC’s media justice ministry and ourFaithful Internet project. I’m so grateful Kimberly let me share this story today, and for her earlier blog on this topic. At Faithful Internet we’re sponsoring aGroundswell petition and collecting testimonials of the many ways that the faith community uses the Internet, from online justice actions to sermons via podcast, from connecting with our pastors to talking with teens.

Please, visit Faithful Internet to explain how you use the Internet — perhaps you read blogs on Patheos?– so that our leaders in Congress know that all of us are counting on full, real, net neutrality. The FCC adopted great rules today, but the newly conservative Congress is already making plans to block it. Our political leaders need to know that this will affect all of us.

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Today We Celebrate

This morning, government officials gathered in DC to vote on the future of the Internet.
 
The astonishing news: WE WON.
 
Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to reclassify the Internet as a public utility, as essential as water and electricity, and adopted strong protections to keep the Internet open and free for this and future generations.
 
One year ago, today’s victory today was unimaginable. We were up against powerful forces that wanted the power to block and slow down sites and create fast lanes for those who could pay—and slow lanes for the rest of us. It didn’t seem like every day Americans had a chance. But millions of us stood up and spoke out: entrepreneurs, educators, artists, activists, and people of many faiths and moral backgrounds.
 
Against all odds, millions of Americans of all faiths and backgrounds fought for our future—a future that preserves the Internet as a space where all our voices can be heard, regardless of income, race, religion, or status. A future where all children and families have the right to learn, connect, innovate, and organize online. A future where we can keep striving to make this world a more just and beautiful place using all the tools available.
 
Today is not only a political victory but a moral victory for millions of Americans, including all of us who participated in the Faithful Internet campaign. Thank you for clicking, recording videos, and writing testimonials. Thank you to the FCC Chairman, Commissioners and staff who listened to the groundswell.
 
How should we celebrate? Online of course.
 
Please like and share this photo with the hashtag #faithfulnet.

We will be in touch about next steps to protect today's victory. But today, we thank you and celebrate together.

With boundless gratitude,
OC Inc.

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More Reform on Prison Phone Rates!

UCC OC Inc., Center for Media Justice and MAGNet teamed up with religious organizations, civil rights groups, labor and many others to submit a letter today supporting further reforms to end predatory prison phone rates.  The letter supported the FCC's proposal to end "kick-back" payments, known as commissions from phone companies to prisons, jails and detention centers.  The letter also urged the FCC to cap local rates and to block unfair fees, to build on the FCC's historic decision to cap long-distance rates in 2014.  We also urged the FCC to take rapid action to protect people with disabilities, and to investigate unscrupulous rates for email and video visitation.  Learn more about prison phone rates on our web page. 

If you have a personal story about prison phone rates, share it with the FCC on this website created by the Prison Phone Justice Campaign.  More information about the new FCC proceeding is available in the flyer prepared by the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net).

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Progress on Diversity Today, Hope for More Diversity Tomorrow

Today the FCC took action which might be a modest harbinger of better news on this front in the future.  The FCC approved a number of transactions which will add new broadcast owners of color and women.  Setting aside the details of each transaction, it is important to note, as Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn did today, that this welcome increase in African American, Asian American and women owners comes as a direct result of the FCC's decision to start enforcing the ownership rules already on the books.  Last spring the FCC recognized that so-called "sidecar" or Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) between stations take advantage of a legal loopholes to achieve concentration in excess of ownership limits. 

 

This is a great example showing how the FCC's media ownership rules are an important way that the FCC can ensure we have a diverse media.  The stations transfers approved today took place because, once the loophole was closed, the existing owners were not permitted to keep stations in violation of the FCC's rules.  If the FCC's rules had been enforced as they should have been for the last 15 years, perhaps our media ownership numbers would not be as dismal as they are now.

 

The FCC can repeat this success in its currently pending 2014 Quadrennial Review of ownership rules, but only if it takes action now.  While the FCC closed the loophole of JSAs (which stations use to jointly sell advertising), many other similar ownership arrangements continue under the moniker of "SSAs" or Shared Services Agreements.  Not only are these agreements similar to JSAs in their ability to evade compliance with the FCC's ownership rules, but they strike at the heart of the FCC's core goals because they enable televisions stations to consolidate news operations.   In several important markets in our country--for example in Honolulu--viewers see the same newscast on three separate TV stations.  This not only limits multiple newscasts to one viewpoint, but eliminates jobs for reporters.  These agreements are also problematic because they create "financial dependency," as Wheeler and Clyburn put it, on the part of putative owners, depriving those dependent owners of capital and wealth.

 

SSAs are clothed in secrecy, because unlike JSAs, broadcasters are not required to disclose their terms to either the FCC or the public.  The FCC missed an important opportunity last spring when it could have required these agreements to come under scrutiny.  If the FCC wants to see more deals like the ones it approved today, it needs to require SSA disclosure in the first half of 2015--so there is enough time to analyze these agreements and adopt rules eliminating the remaining loopholes as part of the pending review.   

 

Evan as national events confirm once again, that, yes, race does matter in how we perceive so many important aspects of daily life and public policy, we see a glimmer of hope that the people with insight into the needs of communities who have so long been closed out of the mass media might have a chance to shape local news in some places in the years to come.

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