Office of Communications, Inc.

Posts by: Cheryl

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eligible families from obtaining their subsidies, that was to be offered later this week as part of a budget bill was withdrawn.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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Joyful Celebration - Open Internet Upheld!

Good news!  Today, a U.S. federal court upheld the Federal Communications Commission's rules safeguarding the open internet.  UCC OC Inc. co-founded the Faithful Internet campaign to advocate for an open internet.

 

As faith leaders, we applaud today's ruling in federal court to uphold net neutrality rules. These rules protect the ability of people of all faiths and backgrounds to communicate, create, and organize online.

 

The future of faithful life, service and social justice work in America depends on these rules. In a time of fear and polarization, we need the open Internet now more than ever to fulfill the call of our faiths and moral traditions and build the beloved community.

 

Share your joy online, tag it #faithfulnet and follow the Faithful Internet campaign at @thefaithfulnet and onFacebook or UCC OC Inc. at @uccmediajustice and on Facebook.

 

Joyfully,

Cheryl & Valarie

Faithful Internet Co-Founders

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Federal Court: Time for Delay on Ownership Diversity Studies is Over

Upon the issuance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in Prometheus Radio Project v. Federal Communications Commission, Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor for UCC OC Inc. said:

Since 2004 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has been reviewing the FCC’s media ownership rules—pressing again and again for FCC action to accompany the FCC’s words in support of increasing media ownership diversity. 

The Third Circuit has confirmed that the time for delay is over.  The FCC has promised studies on minority and female ownership for more than two decades and today the court has concluded, if the FCC “needs more data” to find a definition that will improve minority ownership, “it must get it.” 

The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., looks forward to sitting down with the FCC to develop a timeline within the court-ordered 60-day timeframe to make sure that the long-awaited studies are undertaken.

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Categories: media diversity

Rev. Traci Blackmon to be 2016 Parker Lecturer on October 13, 2016

For Immediate Release
 
REV. TRACI BLACKMON TO DELIVER
34RD ANNUAL EVERETT C. PARKER LECTURE
 

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, will deliver the 34rd annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture. The event, organized by the UCC’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc., will be held at 8 a.m. EST on Thursday October 13 at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC.

Blackmon came to national attention in the fall of 2014 as part of the pastoral presence in Ferguson, Mo., working to quell months of civil unrest following the fatal police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in August of that year. Blackmon, then senior pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., served on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s Ferguson Commission, which studied the underlying causes of the racial conflicts in that city and made recommendations on how to address them.

 

Blackmon assumed her current position with the UCC’s national setting on January 1, 2016. Later that month, President Barack Obama appointed her to his 15-member Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was one of the black leaders recognized in 2015 by being named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list.

 

Blackmon was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and has more than 30 years of experience in the health care industry, first as a registered nurse and later as coordinator of health, mind, body and spirit for BJC HealthCare, one of the country’s largest nonprofit health care organizations. She is the founder of the Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational symposium designed to assist women toward spiritual and sexual wholeness, and is co-founder of “When Women Gather. . . ,” a monthly ecumenical gathering committed to the spiritual growth and development of women.

 

Rev. Blackmon expressed her pleasure at being asked to offer this year’s lecture, stating, “the media—whether on television or online—play a critical role in our ability to spread God’s word and work together for social justice,” she said. “I’m looking forward to exploring the intersections between a just media and a just world.”

 

The Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the late Rev. Dr. 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 www.uccmediajustice.org.

 

The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with nearly 1 million members and more than 5,000 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

202-904-2168

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Affordable Broadband Door Opened

Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to modernize the Lifeline program today.  The Lifeline program subsidy for low-income consumers will now apply to broadband Internet access. 

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 vote to modernize Lifeline and to provide the first nationwide subsidy for low-income household access to broadband service will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of millions of families. United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners in the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been asking for the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband access since 2010. Commerce Department data from 2010 shows at the time, 42.9 percent of households earning $25,000 or less subscribed to broadband at home and that number has only inched up to about 46 or 47 percent today.

The Internet is the tool that unlocks the doors to information, jobs, education--and for too many low income people that door has remained locked. The Internet has been out of reach, glimpsed from afar courtesy of kind neighbors, 30 minute slots at the library, or by kids huddling outside school to catch a wi-fi signal to do their homework. Millions of households are waiting to unlock the door to economic equity and opportunity. Thursday's vote is a critical step toward that open door. 

 

Commissioner Clyburn has been dedicated to the needs of the "least of these" from the minute she was sworn in at the FCC. We thank Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn for their steadfast support for low-income people.

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Prison Phone Rates Come Down Again Today

Today is another step toward justice in communications.  For the last several years, advocates, clergy, people of faith and many others around our country have been campaigning to lower predatory prison phone rates.  We in the United Church of Christ heard Jesus' call in Matthew 25 to remember and visit those in prison -- as Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler said when he gave the Parker Lecture in 2014 "the way you see people in prison today is using communications."

 

Our campaign asked the FCC to ensure that the families and friends of inmates are charged fair rates for phone calls.  We spoke out asking the FCC to follow up with its ruling lowering long distance rates and address local rates also.  Without this campaign prisons and jails were incentivized to set telephone rates because they received much of the profit from these calls.  Grandmothers and ministers were subsidizing the cost of jail and prison from their own pockets.

 

The good news is that the FCC heard us and adopted lower rates for local and long distance calls!  Thanks to everyone, UCC's JPANet and Justice and Witness Ministries, our interfaith partners and everyone who helped with this successful campaignMost of those new rules will go into effect today.  Unfortunately, because the prison phone companies and a number of states have challenged the FCC's new rules in court, we will need to wait to fully benefit from the new rules until the law suit is over--probably not until 2017.  As our policy advisor Cheryl Leanza said when the court acted, "Seemingly there is no limit to the lengths prison phone companies and sheriffs will go to keep their ill-gotten gains no matter the impact on these families, clergy, and lawyer-client communications."

We have issued a guide to help families and people in prison and jail understand which rates become effective today and what happens next.  

While we wait for the law suit to end, it is important to keep the pressure on the states and prison phone companies that are fighting just and reasonable rates.  Take action through the prison phone justice campaign, share messages on social media about these phone companies' greed and petition the state attorneys general that are thwarting prison phone justice with their legal action..

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Categories: prison phone

New Prison Phone Rates Guide

When will new rules go into effect?

The FCC adopted two effective dates for the new local rates and fee caps -- March 17 for prisons, and June 20 for jails and smaller institutions. 

 

What is the long distance per minute rate? 

The long distance (calls between two states) rate for the whole country to and from prisons and jails is still 21 cents for debit calls and 25 cents for collect calls.  That does not change. 

What are the local per minute rates?

Local rates are not currently affected by the FCC's ruling anywhere--the rules were temporarily blocked by the courts.  If your state has set lower local rates, then the lower local rate applies.   We will not have national per-minute rate caps on local calls until the court case about the FCC's rules, we expect a decision in 2017.

 

What happens to per-call fees or flat rate calling?

Those fees are now banned for both local and long distance calls.  No more calls that cost one price no matter how long you talk according to the effective dates above - March 17 for prisons and June 20 for jails.

What will the fees be? 

After March 17 for prisons and after June 20 for jails, ONLY the following fees are permitted to call to and from prison and:

 

Type of Fee

Cap

Automated payment by phone or website

$3.00

Payment through a live agent

$5.95

Paper bill fee

$2.00

NO prepaid account minimum payments

 

NO prepaid account limits less than 50

 

Third-party fees (such as from Western Union) or mandatory taxes and regulatory fees passed through with no markup.

 

 

When will we see the 11 cents per minute and 14 cents per minute rates we heard so much about?

 

Those are coming, but we must wait until the court considers the whole legal case about the new rules.  Our best guess is early 2017 before we know the outcome of the law suit.  UCC OC Inc. and our allies are filing in the law suit to speak up for families and inmates.

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Categories: prison phone

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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Prison Phone Court Action - Lower Rates Still Coming

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a partial stay this morning preventing the full force of the FCC's inmate calling caps from going into effect. The following can be attributed to Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ, OC Inc.:

 

The court's decision today is limited, it upholds the interim rates of 21 and 25 cents per minute. It will also permit the vast majority of the FCC's new limits on predatory fees surrounding prison phone calls, including limits on the cost of calls for deaf and hard of hearing inmates. It will defer until the end of the current law suit the new rates that would cap rates as low as 11 cents per minute for local and long-distance calling.

 

Families of incarcerated people have been waiting for decades to pay just and reasonable rates as mandated by the Communications Act--to enjoy the same rights as everyone else in this country. Their fight will ultimately prevail, but for now they will benefit from some extremely important improvements while they wait, yet again, for their interests to be vindicated in court. Seemingly there is no limit to the lengths prison phone companies and sheriffs will go to keep their ill-gotten gains no matter the impact on these families, clergy, and lawyer-client communications.

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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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