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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "Open Internet-Net Neutrality"

United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman Pai

We congratulate Ajit Pai on being designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today.  We hope to work with Mr. Pai on many areas of common concern, such as media diversity and competition, affordable access to broadband, the end of predatory prison phone rates, and a free and open Internet.  Although Mr. Pai has often spoken eloquently about his commitment to these shared goals, we have not yet been able to find common ground on the means to these ends. 

We believe that media ownership diversity must be premised on hard data, detailed and rigorous study, rigorous enforcement of the FCC's rules, and ownership by women and people of color that does not leave them financially dependent upon large corporations or struggling to succeed as small companies in overly consolidated media markets. 


We believe that affordable access to broadband depends on a robust Lifeline program--a program that was built on conservative principles during the Reagan years as a public-private partnership using efficient market mechanisms to assist only those in need.  Low-income people will get affordable broadband if Lifeline is supported, not torn down, by communications policy leaders. 


We believe in fair and just telephone rates for the millions of children, families and clergy seeking to connect with in prison, detention centers and jails.  Leaders who agree, as Mr. Pai has said he does, that these rates are unjust and must be reduced have a moral obligation to defend and protect these innocent families.  Relying on the unverified, self-serving claims of companies and correctional facilities facing no limit on their desire to increase profits will lead to even more abusive rates.


We believe that, as the backbone of an increasing share of all our national conversations, a free and open Internet protected by Net Neutrality is fundamental to social justice.  All people must be able to speak with their own, God-given, voices, regardless of their incomes or races. Government leaders, locally and nationally, must be able to ensure that all children and families have access to affordable broadband in their schools and homes.  Our ability to speak and participate in civic discourse should not depend on whether we access the internet via a smartphone or a computer.  Commercial popularity should not be the sole arbiter of whether a story can be heard.


People of faith know the power of a story to change hearts and to change the world.  In modern times, we visit people in prison via telephone, we love our neighbors as ourselves online, and we care for the least of these because we view them (or not) on television.


Today, Mr. Pai must start the hard work of governing, rather than dissenting.  We will see whether Mr. Pai's policies produce an open marketplace of ideas or whether they simply support large corporate conglomerates that are politically indebted to an administration that has shown no reluctance to attack journalists for reporting the facts.  We will see whether low-income families get access to broadband or whether clergy can afford to call their congregants in prison.  We will see if the non-commercial stories of God are pushed to internet slow-lanes in favor of highly profitable commercial entertainment.  As part of the United Church of Christ, we believe in civil dialogue in disagreement, even as we remain committed to our prophetic witness for justice.  Even in times of great challenge, we commit to both.


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Budget riders threaten media justice wins

Over the last year, we've had a couple of great FCC rulings.  We were pleased to see the FCC, last year, take a step toward rules that will promote more media diversity.  The FCC eliminated loopholes that allow companies to own more stations than permitted by FCC rules.  This resulted right away in more stations being sold off to women and people of color and increasing media ownership diversity for the first time in years

In addition, of course we're all excited about the FCC's strong net neutrality ruling this year, supported by our fantastic Faithful Internet campaign.

But unfortunately each of these rulings are at risk during the budget process, when members of Congress attach "policy riders" to the budget.  Essentially even if Congress can't blog the FCC through legislation, it can put limits on how the FCC spends its money and that means Congress can block the FCC's decisions through sneaky back-door maneuvers. 

In the last month we've been working with our allies in the civil rights and faith communities to urge Congress to let the FCC's decisions stand.  You can see the Leadership Conference substantive letter on media diversity, their letter opposing policy riders, and our faith letter opposing both media diversity and net neutrality policy riders. 

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Faithful Internet: A Big Week!

For the last nine months, the UCC OC Inc. has been collaborating with people of faith and faith leaders around the country on our Faithful Internet campaign, co-led by me and Valarie Kaur, lawyer, faith leader and filmmaker extraordinaire. It has been a great privilege to see so many faith leaders consider, some for the first time, the importance of an open Internet for their work as clergy and as social justice advocates.

Our work culminated this week in a social media Thunderclap campaign that reached over a million people. On a visit to the Congressional Black Caucus we delivered faith-leader testimonials and our Groundswell petition signed by more than 1,200 people, and we released Valarie’s beautiful video First We Pray, Then We Organize, which is featured on the Huffington Post. We have been joined on this journey by so many allies, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Rev. William Barber II to Rev. Otis Moss III.

The video, petitions, testimonials and campaigns all have one central message: Communities of faith and social justice advocates cannot perform their work in the 21st century without a free and open Internet. Without Net Neutrality, which the FCC adopted this year, faith leaders and institutions would have to pay for their websites and their content to have equal and fair treatment on the Internet. Without Net Neutrality, content from civil rights and social justice leaders would be trapped behind the “buffering wheel of death” while only content from a few wealthy providers would be easily and readily accessible. 

This morning, I was joined by my colleagues in the United Church of Christ, both local and national leaders, as well as the Media Action Grassroots Network and one of our Faithful Internet fellows. We visited with the policy director and the director of external affairs of the CBC, asking them to convey to the current chair of the CBC, Congressman Butterfield, that we’re concerned about Butterfield's position on Net Neutrality.

Late last year, President Obama proclaimed his continued support of full and robust Net Neutrality, and in February 2015, the FCC voted to adopt strong rules protecting us. Since then, opponents of Net Neutrality have been advocating for congressional legislation to weaken the FCC’s decision.

While the Democratic caucus has stood behind the Obama FCC, Congressman Butterfield has stated publicly that he supports an effort in this Congress to change the FCC’s decision. We have little hope that the current Congress could ever adopt protections as strong as the rules adopted by the current FCC, and we don’t want this Congress — which has not proven to be a friend of social justice issues — to replace strong protections with false ones. 

Of course, members of Congress are always going to be willing to have a dialogue with their colleagues; without those civil conversations our democracy would only become more partisan and more craven. But we hope none of our leaders will be fooled by efforts to undermine Net Neutrality that are disguised as compromise.

Although today Net Neutrality opponents filed their legal attacks on the rules, the FCC's decision was strong, legally sound, and done with fealty to the law that mandates that all people in the U.S. should receive fair and equal access to communications technology. Nothing less will do.

We hope Congressman Butterfield, as chair of the CBC, will follow the lead of caucus members and great heroes like Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Bobby Scott, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Chaka Fattah and Sen. Cory Booker, who have led the way and supported strong Net Neutrality protections. The great civil rights victories of the future depend on it.

Video briefings, webinars, resources and opportunities to take action are all available at

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Faith Groups Praise FCC Net Neutrality Ruling

We, as organizations representing many diverse religious traditions, express our gratitude to the Federal Communications Commission for the strong net neutrality protections adopted in February and released last week.  These protections will assure Internet openness and are essential for the faith community to function and connect with our members, to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology, and to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded media environment.

An open internet impacts all of us, not just the technology sector or sophisticated elites. All of us rely on the Internet every day. We are relieved that our communities will not be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the Internet: non-profit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay those tolls. Even more important, low-income people cannot afford the higher prices which would be passed on to them from commercial content providers paying for priority access. The Internet is an indispensable medium for people of faith – and others with principled values – to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings. As Chairman Wheeler explained before the vote, Net Neutrality is a guarantee of First Amendment protections on the Internet. We strongly support the FCC’s decision as responsive to our previous letter to the FCC, and oppose efforts to derail those protections either legislatively or in court.

  • National Council of Churches USA
  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society
  • United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

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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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