UCC Media Justice

UCC Media Justice Update

Leanza appears before U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee, Presses for Phone Justice

Cheryl A. Leanza testifies virtually before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology

Yesterday, October 6, 2021, Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Energy & Commerce Committee at a hearing titled, “Strengthening Our Communications Networks to Meet the Needs of Consumers.”

Leanza's oral testimony focused on expressing support for pending legislation sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Il), H.R. 2489, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act. The legislation will immediately set interim rates for calls to incarcerated people of 4 and 5 cents per minute, firmly establish the Federal Communications Commission's jurisdiction over all calls to carceral facilities, and require the FCC to conduct regular proceedings to ensure rates keep pace with market conditions. At this time, because of a court decision in 2017, the Federal Communications Commission cannot regulate local calls that occur inside a state, and FCC analysis showed that in some states those calls cost as much as $24.80 for a 15-minute call.


Leanza spoke of the impact high rates have on families, asking the Subcommittee "Could your marriage survive on a few 15-minute calls per week?" and noting that families are going into debt to pay for phone calls. She quoted Diane Lewis, mom of an incarcerated son:


I’ve seen the difference between my son, who has a lot of support, and others in prison who can’t make phone calls or never have family visits. There’s a big difference, and it’s why they struggle while inside and often go back after. It’s the anger and depression that comes with doing time by yourself, and the lack of practical support needed when you get out.


She invoked the biblical teaching of Matthew 25:36-40, urging Congress to pass H.R. 2489 in order to care for those society often considers "the least" among us.

Her written testimony and a video of the full hearing are available on the Subcommittee's hearing web site, Leanza's opening statement starts at 00:38.

Earlier this week UCC OC Inc. joined with New America's Open Technology Institute, Free Press, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Knowledge and the Benton Institute to file comments at the Federal Communications Commission which is conducting a proceeding on whether to lower long distance/interstate rates and fees and on further steps needed to address the communications needs of people with disabilities who are incarcerated. In August, UCC OC Inc. collaborated with Public Knowledge to file a Petition for Reconsideration of the FCC's previous order on carceral communications, urging the Commission to provide a more robust legal analysis and to ensure no loopholes permit states or localities to charge rates that exceed existing caps.

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Categories: prison phone

Love Your Neighbor: Get Them Internet!

Boy at computer using mouse.The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry is participating in a week-long effort to ensure that low-income families and individuals are taking advantage of a new program offering them a $50 discount per month for home internet ($75 on tribal lands). The new program, called the Emergency Broadband Benefit was passed by Congress as part of COVID-19 relief efforts, began offering subsidies in May 2021. While response to the new program has been good, as of now millions of eligible people are leaving this money on the table. The faith community can be a critical player to meet this need as our communities are experts on one-on-one outreach. UCC offered a webinar describing the program, a recording and the slides are available.


The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry is distributing a one-page flyer (also in Spanish) that can be easily used to get the word out to families who are not online. UCC churches, individual people of faith, and anyone who cares can use the flyer.


The Emergency Broadband Benefit program has wide eligibility:

  • Income-based federal benefits like SNAP (food stamps), SSI, federal public housing assistance or Medicaid;
  • Free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast; Received a federal Pell Grant during the current school year;
  • Substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020;
  • And more…. check out out ebbhelp.org or in Spanish at ebbhelp.org/es/

People can apply several ways:

  • Call the FCC at 833–511–0311 or connect online with the Federal Communications Commission at GetEmergencyBroadband.org; or
  • Work with your local internet company to apply — major companies like Comcast, Charter (Spectrum), AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are participating and can help you get connected. Ask your local company.

Once a household successfully applies, the consumer pays the discounted price (sometimes free) and the federal funds go directly to the company to offset the difference.

UCC churches, conferences, associations and individual members, along with our faith-based and humanitarian partners should:

  1. Share copies of the flyer via any direct service project or partners serving low-income people.
  • Run a soup kitchen? Make copies and distribute flyers.
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or homeless shelter? Bring copies of the flyer to distribute.
  • Volunteering at a community event? Bring flyers and help people read them.
  • If someone is interested after seeing the flyer, use your phone to connect to these simple easy-to-use web sites, or help them call the toll free number to learn more and apply.
  1. Individuals can share flyers with neighbors, or post the flyer on local community bulletin boards, bring copies with them when they volunteer or to Sunday services or Sunday school families.


The flyers include phone numbers to reach government staff who can help individuals to sign up and mobile friendly web pages which explain eligibility in an easy-to-understand format.

The collaborative outreach week is occurring September 30 through October 1, but the effort to sign people up for the program will continue throughout the fall.

UCC’s media justice ministry held a short webinar to describe the program and answer questions, a recording and the slides are available.

Cheryl A. Leanza, the leader of UCC’s media justice work said, “I am so pleased that the work we did advocating for this program in Washington, DC bore fruit. I am hopeful our faith communities can get this critical assistance into the homes of people who need it.”


Take action:

If you take action, share via the hashtag #GetConnectedEBB and #UCCMediaJustice

The United Church of Christ is a faith community rooted in justice. It established the Office of Communication, Inc. in 1959 as its ministry working to create just and equitable communications structures that give meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas. Learn more about UCC’s media justice ministry at www.uccmediajustice.org.

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2021 Parker Lecture


An expert in the intersection between white nationalism and other domestic hate movements and a pioneer in the field of digital inclusion will be honored at the 39th Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Ceremony on Tuesday October 19 at 12:00 noon eastern. The event, which will be held virtually again this year, is sponsored by the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc. (OC Inc.).


Eric K. Ward

Eric K. Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, will present this year’s Parker Lecture. Ward has a long history as an activist, philanthropist, community organizer and leader, with a special focus on developing innovative responses to white nationalism, antisemitism and structural inequality. During a time when the country is grappling with its response to racism and white supremacy, particularly online, Ward will bring to bear his compelling skills as a speaker to these critical issues. As a frequently sought-after voice on race issues, he has been quoted in the New Yorker, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, NPR, BBC, Rolling Stone, and numerous other media outlets. In addition to his position at the Western States Center, he received the Peabody-Facebook Futures Media Award, is a Senior Fellow both at the Southern Poverty Law Center and at Race Forward. Ward also performs as Bulldog Shadow in a style of music that Outer Voices calls “a muscular, straightforward brand of Americana that benefits from a heavy dose of punk ethos.”


Angela Siefer

The 2021 Parker Award will be presented to Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). Siefer has played a pivotal role in the field now known as digital inclusion, largely due to her pioneering work. Since beginning her involvement with digital inclusion in 1997, she has contributed substantial work in the field, physically setting up computer labs in underserved areas and managing local digital inclusion programs. Siefer founded the NDIA in 2015, which aims to provide a united voice for initiatives that promote home and public broadband access and local technology training and support programs. NDIA has quickly become an essential player in ensuring all people have access to broadband across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic Siefer and NDIA have expanded and been an irreplaceable source of information and inspiration as the nation struggled to bring all people online. In 2019, Siefer was named by Government Technology Magazine to its list of Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers.


Francella Ochillo

The 2021 Donald H. McGannon Award, which recognizes special contributions to advancing the role of women and persons of color in the media, will be presented to Francella Ochillo. Ochillo is executive director of Next Century Cities, a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding high-speed broadband connectivity across the United States. Ochillo is an attorney and digital rights advocate. Her work highlights the many ways in which widespread broadband adoption can improve educational outcomes, economic mobility, the ability to age in place, and pathways for participating in our democracy. She is also an incoming Technology and Public Purpose Fellow at Harvard University, where her research underscores the relationship between inadequate technology access and poverty. Ochillo is receiving the McGannon award for her work demonstrating that centering digital equity and empowering communities that are underrepresented in policy making are central to achieving positive digital outcomes for all.


Tickets and additional information about the event are available through EventBrite.


About the UCC’s media justice ministry and the Parker Lecture

The Office of Communications, Inc. is the media justice arm of the United Church of Christ. Founded in 1959, just two years after the formation of the UCC as a denomination, it was led by the Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker in its earliest years. Parker was inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to reform television coverage of the civil rights movement in the South. OC Inc.’s advocacy in the 1960s resulted in the establishment of the right of all American citizens to participate in  hearings before the Federal Communications Commission and the FCC being compelled to take away the broadcast license of the pro-segregationist television station WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., in 1969 for failing to serve the public interest.


The Parker Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the Rev. Dr. Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The Parker Lecture is the only program of its kind in the United States that examines telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective.



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Categories: ParkerLecture

Supreme Court rules in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project

The Supreme Court ruled on very narrow grounds this morning in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project that the Trump Federal Communications Commission decision on media ownership permissibly allowed broadcast consolidation at the expense of ownership diversity by women and people of color. The Court did not adopt the broadcast industry's arguments that would have bound the agency to an improper reading of the Communications Act or the FCC's own precedent.

Cheryl A. Leanza, co-counsel in the case and the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry's policy advisor said the following:

Although the ruling is disappointing, the Court's decision was very narrow, finding only that the FCC's decision was 'within the zone of reasonableness' because the FCC possessed a sparse record. But the sparse record is the FCC's own fault. Any analysis of this question must rely on the FCC's data and yet the FCC has long permitted broadcast licensees to avoid filing their ownership data with impunity and has never taken steps to remedy the deficiencies.

The good news is the Biden FCC, once it gains a working majority, can quickly get to work building a solid record to promote the public interest standard and media ownership diversity.

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Going to the Supreme Court for Media Justice

As part of its 60-year-old mission in pursuit of media justice, the UCC's media justice ministry, OC Inc., filed in the Supreme Court today. The case came to the Supreme Court when the Trump Administration and the broadcast industry appealed a UCC victory in federal court last year that blocked the FCC's effort to permit more local television mergers and other media combinations in local communities.  


In last year's victory, in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, the federal appellate court in Philadelphia, ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could not permit additional consolidation when it ignored facts in the record showing consolidation would harm ownership rates by women and people of color. The FCC has long decried low ownership diversity numbers but ignored facts in the record showing consolidation harms diversity by putting more television and radio stations into the hands of fewer and fewer owners.


As Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor and lead litigator in the case in Philadelphia explained last year, "the court found the FCC treated its obligation as less-important than high school math homework and got caught turning in work that, in the court's words, 'would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.'"


The state of ownership diversity is abysmal. Although the FCC's data is flawed and not completely reliable, it gives the best indication we currently have regarding current numbers. In full power television, racial minorities combined own 26 stations out of 1,376 licensed stations, Hispanics own 58 stations, and women own 73. In FM radio, racial minorities own 159 of 6,647 radio stations, Hispanics own 219, and women own 390. In all cases, the share owned by women and people of color is in the single digits, and in the case of most individual categories, such as Asian Americans, control is less than 1 percent. And the FCC data is incomplete, for example in FM radio 19 percent of stations did not report any data at all.


The UCC's history in court against the FCC goes back to the earliest days of the denomination when Rev. Everett C. Parker began his work as the original director of communications and founded OC Inc. He worked with local residents and church members to monitor and hold accountable television stations in the South by monitoring their content and filing challenges to TV station license renewals at the FCC. In those early days, the UCC established the right of audience members—as opposed to competing stations—to file challenges at the FCC when a broadcaster did not serve its local community.


The current case, which is a collaboration among the UCC and other public interest organizations including the Prometheus Radio Project, will determine the rules of the road for future FCC proceedings considering media ownership rules. The current debate has been on-going for 20 years, ever since Congress required the FCC to review its broadcast ownership rules on a regular basis. Each of those proceedings has come before the court in Philadelphia and the FCC has repeatedly failed to comply with its obligations, leading to four cases known as Prometheus I, II, III and IV.


"This case is about when a federal court should carefully scrutinize an agency and when it should grant the agency more deference," said Ms. Leanza, "in this case, the appellate court reviewed the FCC's work and found it failed the bare minimum for a federal agency. The lower court should clearly be upheld."


Oral argument is scheduled for January 19, 2021 via teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision will occur before the end of the Supreme Court's term next June.

Lead counsel on the brief are Ruthanne M. Deutsch and Hyland Hunt of DeutschHunt PLLC. Also on the brief are Cheryl A. Leanza, who advises OC Inc. directly and serves as counsel to OC Inc. and several of the other parties through Best Best & Krieger, LLP and Andrew Jay Schwartzman.

For more background on this case, read our previous blog posts:

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Categories: media concentration

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