FCC chair gets an earful in Oakland

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On Jan. 9, the newly appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, visited Oakland's Preservation Park for a town hall meeting.

It was the first time in more than five years that the head of the FCC engaged in this kind of face-to-face community dialogue in Oakland, Chancellar Williams of Free Press said at the start of the meeting. The event was hosted by the Free Press, the Center for Media Justice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition.

Social justice advocates from Oakland and San Francisco greeted Wheeler with a wide variety of concerns, asking him to help close the digital divide and improve access to basic phone and Internet service for low-income people.

Some spoke out about media consolidation, which Williams said has given rise to cost barriers resulting in abysmally low representation of broadcast station ownership by people of color. Others asked Wheeler to address the high cost of telephone calls in immigration detention.

Before people started lining up to share their thoughts with Wheeler, Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice, captured everyone's attention by delivering an impassioned speech on issues of media ownership, democracy, and racial inequality.

"Just as our physical bodies serve to preserve our nervous systems," she began, "the people right here stand beautifully strong in defense of an affordable, accountable, and accessible media."