Office of Communications, Inc.

Posts by: Cheryl

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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Remembering Wally Bowen

We were saddened to learn of the passing of this year's McGannon Award recipient, Wally Bowen, last night after his long battle with ALS.  We at UCC OC Inc. are gratified that we got a chance to demonstrate to him how important his work was nationally as well as in his home community of rural western North Carolina. 

His friend Monroe Gilmour was able to attend the ceremony in Washington DC in October to receive the award on his behalf, and then present it to him at home in North Carolina, as captured in this picture.  Upon learning of his death, Cheryl Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "Wally's lifelong dedication to the cause of media justice was inspirational to me for as long as I knew him.  Wally took policy opportunities created in Washington and made them into real opportunities for his neighbors in western North Carolina.  All the victories in Washington will be for naught without people like Wally to translate them into action on the ground." 


Wally Bowen was recognized for his leadership in building the Mountain Area Information Network in western North Carolina, and then working to bring a low-power FM station, local cable access channels and broadband access to his community.


Bowen's acceptance remarks highlighted his dedication to his home community,  and noted that his work had been inspired and supported by his own faith community, Jubilee!, in Asheville, NC.  He quoted the words of theologian Frederick Buechner: “Your true vocation is found in that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”  He continued, "It has been my good fortune to have found that place of true vocation in my work through the Mountain Area Information Network these past 20 years. On behalf of the rural citizens for whom we advocated, thank you again for this award affirming this work."


Thank you, Wally, for doing the work.

The description of Wally's achievements and press release, as well as additional photos of the Parker Awards and of Wally receiving his award are available online.

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Categories: ParkerLecture

Parker Lecture a Strong Success!

The 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Breakfast was successfully held on October 20, 2015.  2015. Read about honorees and sponsors, read the press releasePhotos from the event are available on our Flickr stream. Please feel free to download any photo you want using the Flickr download button (the down arrow icon on the bottom right hand side of the photo). Video highlights of the event are also available on the UCC Media Justice YouTube Page.

We were thrilled to have so many guests join us to celebrate our honorees, Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network, and Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director for Free Press, as well as hear from danah boyd, founder of Data & Society Research Institute.  Although he could not attend in person, after the event, Wally received the award in North Carolina.

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Categories: ParkerLecture

Prison Phone Rate Victory

In anticipation of the Federal Communications Commission vote tomorrow on inmate calling, the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry issued its strong support of the Federal Communications Commission vote tomorrow capping local prison phone rates.


"The vote tomorrow is a victory, no questions asked," said Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor for the historic ministry.  "The FCC is not only capping the rates paid by families but cracking down on fees that could otherwise have been a source of abuse."


Because of the limits on both rates and fees, the commissions previously paid by phone companies to jails, prisons and detention centers will be severely curtailed.  "I can see why Global Tel Link and some prison phone companies might want the FCC to stop commissions in addition to capping rates," continued Leanza, "those companies would like to keep all of the revenue and pass none of it on to correctional facilities.  But make no mistake, the only entities harmed by tomorrow's vote are the phone companies that have been gouging families and pastors for so long."

UCC OC Inc. and many civil rights and criminal justice organizations signed a letter just before the record closed, laying out their strong support for the FCC's planned vote. 


UCC OC Inc. has been working with a long list of allies, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for Media Justice, Prison Policy Initiative, many faith leaders, and the Prison Phone Justice campaign and all of its members.  A rally celebrating the FCC's order is planned for Thursday morning at 9:30 am outside the FCC.

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Categories: prison phone

Wally Bowen's 2015 Parker Lecture Remarks

I'm so honored to receive this award from the United Church of Christ, a faith community I have long admired for its commitment to social justice and for its pioneering work in the field of media reform. I am especially grateful that the McGannon Award, for the first time, is recognizing rural folk as a class of citizens underrepresented in mainstream media. This award also has special meaning for me because my work has been supported and inspired by my own faith community, Jubilee, in Asheville, North Carolina. One of the inspirational lessons from Jubilee I have carried with me for the last 25 years is this guidance on finding your true calling from the theologian Frederick Buechner: "Your true vocation is found in that place where your deep gladness meets the world 's deep hunger." It has been my good fortune to have found that place of true vocation in my work through the Mountain Area Information Network these past 20 years. On behalf of the rural citizens for whom we advocated, thank you again for this award affirming this work.

-Wally Bowen

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Tribute to Everett Parker

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker passed away early this morning at the age of 102. He was the first director of Communications in 1957 for the newly-formed United Church of Christ. In that role he founded the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc., a media reform and accountability ministry with a civil rights agenda, that worked to improve the coverage and employment of women and people of color in broadcasting and other media. Dr. Parker was named one of the most influential men in broadcasting by the trade publication Broadcasting Magazine and is featured Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television.


"My heart is broken today. I had the chance to work with Everett at the start of my career and visit with him many times after that. Everett was such a strong leader: his standards were always high, he was always thinking three moves ahead and was prepared for any contingency," said Cheryl Leanza, the current policy advisor for UCC OC Inc.


"We will always be grateful for Dr. Parker's role in bringing community voices to federal agencies. Much of the successful activism today related to Internet openness and media consolidation traces back to Dr. Parker's work in the 1950s and 1960s," noted Earl Williams, chair of UCC OC Inc. Before the litigation brought by UCC OC Inc. against the Federal Communications Commission in a famous duo of cases known as UCC v. FCC, ordinary people had no right to file comments or register their views at the FCC. Mr. Williams explained, "the millions of people who asked the FCC to protect net neutrality last year can credit Dr. Parker and his work at UCC OC Inc. for their right to do so."


Dr. Parker's family has graciously asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to UCC OC Inc.  


Dr. Parker's work and career are commemorated every year in the Annual Parker Lecture and Award Ceremony. The next lecture will be held in Washington DC on October 20, 2015 and will feature a lecture by danah boyd and will honor activists Joseph Torres and Wally Bowen. A tribute to his life will be held in conjunction with the lecture.  Tickets and information are available on the UCC OC Inc. web site at

Memorial services for Dr. Parker will be at Church In the Highlands UCC, White Plains, New York, Saturday, October 3, at 11:00 am. 

The United Church of Christ national office released a detailed obituary.  For additional details and information about Dr. Parker and his groundbreaking work, view our learn more page

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Access to High Tech Tools Needed for Economic Security

Today UCC OC Inc. is pleased to join two important expressions of support for the Obama Administration's proposal to modernize an existing program in order to provide financial support to low-income households who cannot afford broadband Internet service. UCC OC Inc. collaborated with many colleagues representing the civil rights community in preparation of the comments submitted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The comments explained the long-standing civil rights community support of this program, called Lifeline, and the need to update it by the end of this year. While 92 percent of households with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 have broadband service, the adoption rate is only 47 percent for households with income below $25,000 and marked disparities continue for other groups, such as people of color, people with disabilities, seniors and others.


Cheryl Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, explained, "Internet access is so ubiquitous that many of us have to explain to our children how we managed without the Internet in the 'old days,' but unfortunately almost one-third of the U.S. population knows only too well what life without the Internet is like. The Lifeline program must be retooled for the 21st Century." The Leadership Conference comments reiterated support for the broadly-supported June Lifeline Principles, which call for a program design that ensures universality; excellence; choice and competition; innovation; and efficiency, transparency, and accountability. The comments outlined support for various aspects of the proposed modernization which will ensure that low-income people are able to use the program to obtain the highest quality services possible, take further steps to eliminate fraud, and adopt administrative reforms that will encourage broad corporate participation in the public-private program.


Specifically, the Leadership Conference comments suggested the FCC:

  • Adopt a functional standard for services eligible for Lifeline that would allow households to complete a variety of important online activities online, while also establishing a clear demarcation of products that are of such low quality as to be undeserving of universal service support;
  • Incentivize providers to offer the best services to consumers, possibly by offering more Lifeline support for higher-quality services and less for lower-quality services;
  • Utilize market and Lifeline data to monitor utilization of the program;
  • Continue vital support for mobile and voice-only services;
  • Implement a centralized third-party eligibility verification system in phases, in a manner that will facilitate portability and consumer choice without negatively impacting Lifeline participants;
  • Adopt participation as a goal for Lifeline and reject proposals that would inhibit it, such as proposals that would result in waiting lists, loss of participant support mid-stream, or mandatory minimum payments;
  • Create incentive grants to facilitate Lifeline reliance on state databases.

In addition, UCC OC Inc. joined with many of the organizations representing low-income consumers signing on to a more detailed filing authored primarily by the National Consumer Law Center.   The more detailed comments lay out how low-income people can best be served by the national Lifeline program.

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Parker Lecture Announces 2015 Honorees


danah boyd, named by Fortune magazine in 2010 as “the smartest academic in tech,” will deliver the 33rd annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Joseph Torres and Wally Bowen will be honored at the 2015 Parker Lecture and Breakfast. The event, organized by the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc., will be held at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 945 G St. NW, Washington, DC.

danah boyd describes herself  as “both an activist and a scholar” whose “research examines the intersection between technology and society.” With degrees from Brown, MIT and UC Berkeley, she is a visiting professor at New York University and a faculty affiliate at Harvard. Dr. boyd’s newest research focuses on the intersection of civil rights and big data analytics.  For over a decade, she focused on how young people use social media as part of their everyday practices. She documented her findings in two books: Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (2009) and It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (2014). Dr. boyd’s more recent work centers on the social and cultural dimensions of the "big data" phenomenon, with an eye to issues such as privacy and the civil rights implications of data analytics.  She is also a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society Research Institute.  She has worked as an ethnographer and social media researcher for various corporations, including Intel,, Google, and Yahoo! and serves on the board or advises Crisis Text Line, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. 

Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press, advocates in Washington to ensure that our nation’s media and telecom policies serve the public interest. He works closely with racial and media justice groups to ensure their voices are heard on key policy debates in the struggle for a more just and equitable media system.  Torres will receive the Everett C. Parker Award, given in recognition of an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications and the media.  He writes frequently on media and Internet issues and is also the co-author of The New York Times bestseller News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.” The book documents the harms caused to communities of color by the media as well as the struggle waged by people of color for a just media system. Torres also serves on the board of directors of the Center for Media Justice and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. Before joining Free Press, Torres worked as deputy director of the National Association of Hispanic journalists.

Wally Bowen, a nationally-known advocate for local self-reliance via local ownership of media infrastructure, will receive the Donald H. McGannon Award. This year’s McGannon award is being given in recognition of Wally’s dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas. He is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville, N.C., a nonprofit internet service provider that offers internet service in western North Carolina. He is also the founder of the low power FM station WPVM and a former member of the North Carolina Rural Internet Access Authority. Wally’s vision and commitment to serving underserved people in rural areas inspired him to create MAIN in 1996 when only two counties in western North Carolina were served by commercial Internet Service Providers. He also led a decade-long effort to create the first public access TV channel in the mountain region of North Carolina. In these roles and others, Wally advocates that media reform needs to be accountable to our communities. He was an early advocate of locally-owned “middle-mile” fiber networks, such as ERC Broadband and Pangaea, while representing western North Carolina on the N.C. Rural Internet Access Authority. Bowen is the author of Local Network Cookbook (2009).

The Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of OC, Inc., and his pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The event is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. Past speakers have included network presidents, Congressional leaders, and FCC chairs and commissioners, as well as academics, cable and telephone executives and journalists. More information is available at
The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with more than 1 million members and nearly 5,200 local congregations nationwide, recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society as a whole. For this reason, the UCC’s OC, Inc. has worked since its founding in 1959 to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.

# # #
United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.
Cheryl A. Leanza, media contact

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Categories: ParkerLecture

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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Broadband Adoption Act Introduced

In response to the introduction of the Broadband Adoption Act today, the following can be attributed to Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to UCC OC Inc.:

I welcome today's introduction of the Broadband Adoption Act.  Congresswoman Matsui, Senator Murphy and Senator Booker, along with all the Act's co-sponsors, deserve praise.  This proposed legislation is timely in light of the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming proceeding considering modernization of the Lifeline program. 

Universalizing broadband adoption is critical-- broadband is essential for every aspect of modern life.  As I said last week, affordable access is the linchpin to digital literacy and relevance and hence it is the key to adoption. Universal Adoption is the key to individual and national economic security.

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