United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman PaiSubmitted by Cheryl Mon Jan 23 2017 17:02:31 GMT-0500 (EST)
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.