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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "low income phone subsidy"

FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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Trump Federal Communications Commission Keeps Its Dark Promises

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, like Donald Trump who appointed him, intends to keep his promises. His dissents as a minority Commissioner made clear his plans. This month, after squeaking through his confirmation vote in the Senate, he finally brings out the big guns.

He is fulfilling his promise to gut the FCC's program to assist low income people with the costs of telephone service and broadband.He is fulfilling his promise to turn over the media marketplace to a few, huge owners, while offering women and people of color a fig leaf of paper ownership that conveys no equity rights. And he intends to fulfill his promise next month to turn over Internet freedom to the control of a few large corporate ISPs. These are just a few examples of the decisions that will be adopted next month and the month after, some of which will be almost impossible to reverse if he succeeds.

Not only is he keeping his promises, he is again attempting to disguise them with technical terms and doublespeak that, heretofore, could only be found in George Orwell's dystopia. Thus, he attacks low-income households in a docket titled, "Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers," and his decision to ignore the pleas of civil rights leaders is called "Rules and Policies to Promote New Entry and Ownership Diversity in the Broadcasting Services." Could it be the Commission is secretly ashamed of its actions, using these euphemisms to disguise their favors for corporate America at the expense of the rest of the country?

Perhaps he uses these terms because he knows he is undermining the chances that anyone can question his decisions. The steps he is taking will tip the balance even more toward benefits for the privileged, leaving the most impacted behind, favoring fake news against fact-checked journalism. These decisions combined will mean less access to the Internet, less free speech on the Internet and more inflammatory, uniform broadcast content in cities and towns across the country. If he succeeds, as long as the names sound pretty, the dark effects underneath will be ignored.

The agenda released last night make clear that the Ajit Pai threat is terrifying, and it is no innocent Halloween joke. The scars of the Trump Administration continue, and with these decisions it may be that no journalists or activists will retain the tools needed to challenge them.

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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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Victory on Economic Justice - Affordable Broadband

Yesterday we had a great, twofold victory for communications rights. The Lifeline program helps low-income people to find jobs, get an education and connect to emergency services by offering a modest financial subsidy to subscribe to telephone, and after a new FCC ruling takes effect this year, to Internet services. 

 

Advocates for social justice fended off a bill that would have crippled Lifeline by blocking Lifeline recipients from using mobile phone or internet services--this even though people of color are more likely to rely on mobile devices than other people. Allies from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Consumer Law Center, Media Action Grassroots Network and so many others online came out in opposition. Congressman Pallone and other champions of the Lifeline program defended it and voted to save it.

 

The bill, which was brought through an unusual process, forced through by House leadership, was voted down on the House floor. The loss was so substantial that another amendment to cap the program and block eligible families from obtaining their subsidies, that was to be offered later this week as part of a budget bill was withdrawn.

 

This program is essential, it has been recognized by the President as an important part of our policies to improve economic justice. Great thanks to everyone who wrote, tweeted, posted, made speeches yesterday to ensure that we can keep our communities connected.


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FCC Moves to Bridge the Digital Divide

The United Church of Christ has a long-standing commitment to economic justice and communications rights.   We envision a world where education and economic opportunity is open to everyone. The Internet is the tool today that many Americans use to successfully learn, find jobs, and engage in their communities, and yet one-third of U.S. households do not subscribe to broadband Internet at home. These families are left further and further behind while more fortunate people have better tools to succeed. Statistics show these burdens fall heavily on communities of color.

In pursuit of greater economic justice, UCC OC Inc., the UCC's media justice and communications rights ministry has been working with a large coalition of civil rights and public interest colleagues to increase low-income people's access to broadband. This morning the Federal Communications Commission announced it is moving ahead to take action in a vote at the end of this month. After this vote, we expect the FCC's Lifeline program will offer support for broadband Internet for low-income people in a meaningful way for the first time. Not only this, but we understand the draft circulated today adopts aggressive service standards for these products, meaning that low-income people will gain access to robust services that will fully meet their needs. The FCC has promised it will monitor carefully this new era to ensure that low-income people will be well-served by this program. The FCC will also take important steps to insure the program's integrity and increase the number of companies offering services through the program. 

We look forward to engaging with the FCC Commissioners and staff as they move forward on a most important step to address the broadband adoption gap, bringing the most vulnerable communities into the modern technological age.

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