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FCC's New Chairman Gets Earful of Community Concerns

PHOTO: Bay Area citizens line up to voice their concerns to newly appointed Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler Thursday night in Oakland. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
PHOTO: Bay Area citizens line up to voice their concerns to newly appointed Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler Thursday night in Oakland. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
January 13, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. - The new head of the FCC held a "Town Hall" meeting Thursday night to hear from Bay Area residents about their communications concerns. Chairman Tom Wheeler appeared to be sending a message by holding the first FCC event of this kind in five years in Oakland, a community close to tech-intense Silicon Valley, yet far from it in socioeconomic terms. He listened to citizens and advocates call for consumer protection, open and fair Internet access, strengthening the Lifeline program, and capping high phone rates for people in prison.

Media reform advocate Rashad Robinson allowed that whether the California meeting was merely a gesture remained to be seen.

"Coming to a community like Oakland and hearing from everyday people, hearing from a community that's been hit by the economy but also has a really thriving, organized constituency of activists, you know, I think is important."

Wheeler told the group, "The networks that connect us are the networks that define us," and, "It's not just economics or commerce, it's our culture and our individual lives."

A former lobbyist in the cable TV industry, Wheeler indicated he wants to hear from all sides on communications issues.

"I'm now in my third month in this job, and I have yet to make an appearance in Washington, D.C.," he declared, to applause. "That's why I'm here."

amalia deloney with the Center for Media Justice helped organize the local effort that brought the commissioner to Oakland.

"This is what happens when you leave D.C.," she said. "This is what happens when you meet face-to-face with regular folks. You don't get polished suits, you don't get all kinds of 20- and 50- and 150-page reports. You get real people talking from the heart."

C.W. Johnson, a tenant organizer in San Francisco's Tenderloin district, told the Commissioner the government-mandated Lifeline program for low-income consumers costs people on fixed incomes too much and doesn't include Internet access.

"We need a better quality, a higher quality of service," he declared. "Just because we're lower income don't mean that we don't want to move forward in the future with everyone else."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - CA