Low Power FM Radio Expands to Whole Country

Today we celebrate the more than decade-long fight to bring low power radio stations to the whole country as originally envisioned by then-Chairman Bill Kennard in 1998.  The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry has been one of the forefront supporters of this effort since that time, as part of our over-50 year old media justice work. 

 Much of the technical decision made today will mean that in most of the largest markets in the country, we will have some opportunities for these small non-commercial radio stations on the FM dial.   Cheryl Leanza, the policy advisor for UCC, OC Inc. said, "In every place that I have travelled around the country for the last 15 years talking about media justice, I see people's eyes light up when they imagine a local radio station filled with positive, local, unique programming that ordinary people control themselves.  I congratulate the Federal Communications Commission on taking the steps needed today to lay the groundwork for applications to be filed next year."


"Now is the time for anyone interested in either applying for a station, or perhaps more important, helping to support a local applicant, to study up and make connections in their own communities," continued Leanza, "UCC's media justice ministry will be reaching out to our churches early next year to be sure that our churches can connect with the Prometheus Radio Project's excellent network of applicants.  Churches might have extra space to loan or lease, programming, or church buildings upon which to place radio towers.  All of these will be important as we build a radio network for justice."


UCC OC Inc. is particularly gratified that the Commission has announced a clear timeframe for applicants to submit their filings, this date will make planning much easier for local non-profits and churches.  Leanza noted her disappointment that there wasn't a local programming obligation in the FCC decision, "many local clergy and religious individuals petitioned the FCC asking for a local programming requirement.  We are happy that applicants offering local programming will be preferred, but that preference is not the same as an obligation to offer some locally-created content."


The faith community as a whole has been extremely supportive of the expansion of low power radio throughout the extended effort it took to pass the Local Community Radio Act.  The UCC has a number of resources about the importance of low power radio, including its documentary The People's Voice, available on vimeo.  The UCC sponsored the Microradio Implementation Project in the early days of low power radio to support applicants.


UCC speaks out — stop policies harming diversity in media

UCC OC Inc. is proud today to join with many other civil rights organizations to ask the Federal Communications Commission to put a stop to current proposals that would permit more media consolidation. While UCC OC Inc. is used to these fights--we've stopped the last two rounds of media consolidation proposed by the FCC--it is extremely disappointing to be offering the same critiques at this time as in past years. 

Last week the Federal Communications Commission released its first-ever comprehensive data about media ownership diversity.  For fourteen years the UCC has lead the charge asking the FCC to stand by its promises and take action to ensure our media is as diverse as the country it serves.  So last week should have felt like a victory--but unfortunately the data was released on the same day that the current FCC Chairman proposed to his colleagues to permit more media consolidation.

We should be clear -- the new data showed the same poor showing by women and people of color that we have always known about.  In the past outside groups like UCC's ally Free Press had attempted to create the data set the FCC had not.  Now we have the real, official, comprehensive government data and it shows that:

  • For full power TV stations, women own 6.8 percent of the nation's television stations; Latinos control 2.9 percent, African-Americans .7 percent, Asian Americans .5 percent and American Indians .9 percent. 
  •  For FM radio, women control 5.8 percent, Latinos control 2.7 percent, African-Americans 1.7 percent, Asian Americans .8 percent and American Indians .5 percent. 

Many studies (and pure common sense) explain that when the media is more consolidated, women owners and owners of color are more rare and less successful.  TV and radio stations owned by women and people of color are more likely to be independently owned, and independent stations have a hard time competing against conglomerates.  Diversity in ownership of any industry is an important value--but for the media it is even more important because the media shapes this country's political conversation and the way it views individuals and groups. 

Once media ownership rules are relaxed, the larger companies go on a buying spree.  They buy the smaller stations that they were prohibited from buying before.  These small stations run by women and people of color disappear from the marketplace leaving an already-concentrated marketplace even less representative than before.

Most aggravating, the FCC is proposing consolidation without giving anyone in the public a chance to analyze the new data.  And, the FCC might be going even further--might be concluding that ownership diversity is no longer relevant to promote a diverse marketplace of ideas.

We at UCC OC Inc. are hoping that cooler heads will prevail and the FCC will stop and deliberate further before pursuing additional concentration at the expense of media diversity.

UCC Leader Rallies for Prison Phone Justice

Today the United Church of Christ's General Minister and President, Rev. Geoffrey Black, joined in solidarity with Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and our allies at the Center for Media Justice and the Media Action Grassroots Network at the Strong Families, Safe Communities rally.  The rally was part of the prison phone justice campaign to bring down the cost of telephone calls to prison.  Support this work by joining our campaign.  As they braved the chilly weather, the rally participants were pleased to learn that the Federal Communication Commission chairman moved the issue forward by starting the first phase of the regulatory process last night.  The UCC's General Minister and President said, “The exorbitant costs of prison phone calls take money out of the pockets of grandmothers, pastors and children to put it in the pockets of jailors.  We are here today to rally behind the Federal Communications Commission so that it will act to offer assistance to those families and people of faith who reach out to people in prison.”  UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor Cheryl Leanza praised the Commission for starting the process today, “This is the first step for the Federal Communications Commission.  We are hopeful the other FCC Commissioners will vote this proposal, the FCC will gather the evidence it needs, and act swiftly to end the practice of predatory prison phone rates.”  Full remarks of Rev. Geoffrey Black.

Local Community Radio Act

Problem:  Local Community Radio Act had been pending for almost 10 years.  Advocates for the LCRA were running out of time–the Federal Communications Commission was going to release spectrum that would be used for local community radio.

  • Cheryl successfully helped to bring the Local Community Radio Act across the goal line after 10 years of advocacy.
  • Cheryl led weekly coalition meetings for two years, handling the agenda and distributing detailed notes that enabled a wide range of groups to collaborate with one another.
  • Cheryl was able to combine advice on grassroots legislative advocacy–identifying the type of local advocacy that could be most effective–with detailed legal knowledge to draft legislative language and negotiate with the bills opponents.
  • Cheryl represented the coalition in her testimony before the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, energizing legislative supporters and painting a clear vision of the low power radio service.
  •  Cheryl’s legislative strategy enabled the grassroots champion, Prometheus Radio Project, navigate a gridlocked Congress so that the LCRA obtained unanimous consent in a sharply divided Senate.

Solution:  The coalition effort obtained bipartisan and exceptionally widespread public interest support for legislation, and the Local Community Radio Act became law in December 2010.

Learn more:  See and read Cheryl’s presentation describing the elements of the successful campaign.

Open Internet: no longer a solution in search of a problem

Internet ImageOver the weekend, the New York Times published a story noting that the second-largest Internet provider in France, called Free, is blocking advertisements as part of its new default settings.  This means that, unless users change the default, its 5.2 million customers will not see any advertisements when they browse the Internet.  Whoa!  While this is largely viewed as a swipe at Google, the real victim is reported to be small web sites that rely on advertising to finance their content.  As one commenter noted, this type of policy means that “smaller sites with only an online presence may close.”  Organizations, like news sites, which support their businesses with advertising are likely to be pressured into paying the ISP so that users can view advertisements.

In the past, critics of net neutrality or open Internet policies have criticized them as a “solution in search of a problem.”  Although it wasn’t a credible critique before, the new ad blocking policy makes it more clear that the problem is on our doorstep.  [Read more…]