Telecommunications and Media Industries
Pioneers Chair, Professor of Telecommunications
Dr. Christopher Ali is the Pioneers Chair in Telecommunications and Professor of Telecommunications in the Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State. He joins the department after nine years in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in communication studies from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include media and telecommunications policy and regulation, broadband policy, critical political economy, critical geography, comparative media systems, qualitative research methods, media localism and local news.
Ali's current research focuses on broadband policy and deployment in the United States, specifically in rural areas. His new book, Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity (MIT Press, 2021), examines the complicated terrain of rural broadband policy in the U.S. Farm Fresh unpacks the politics of broadband policy, asking why millions of rural Americans lack broadband access and why the federal government, and large providers, are not doing more to connect the unconnected.
Based on his expertise, Ali was called to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on broadband funding and policy programs. He has also briefed members of the House Democrats Task Force on Rural Broadband, the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Re-Imagining New York, and has presented before numerous state and county governments.
Currently, Ali is involved in four major research projects all around his interests in broadband policy and media industries. One project, in partnership with colleagues at Rutgers University, seeks to better understand the digital divide at higher education institutions. Another project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will investigate digital equity in Charlottesville, Virginia. A third project, with Dr. Hilde Van den Bulk of Drexel University, and funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, asks why Americans place so much in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Fourth, Christopher is actively researching broadband projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, both domestically in the United States and globally in OECD countries.
Ali has published in numerous high ranking academic journals including, Communication Theory, Media Culture & Society, and Telecommunications Policy. His most recent article, with Nick Mathews of UMKC, analyzes life in a broadband and news desert and was published by Mass Communication and Society in 2022. Christopher’s work has been published in The New York Times, The Hill, Realtor Magazine, Law & Political Economy, Washington Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Conversation, and he is a frequent commentator on the subjects of broadband, media policy, and local news, with interviews in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNET, CBC, Bloomberg, and other major national and international news outlets.
Ali's first single-authored book, Media Localism: The Policies of Place (University of Illinois Press, 2017) addresses the difficulties of defining and regulating local media in the 21st century in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada and the implications these difficulties have for the long-term viability of local news. This is the first book to investigate local media policy in a comparative context and the first to systematically assess media localism in Canada and the UK. It combines policy analysis and critical theory to provide for a unique perspective on one of the most challenging policy questions in the media industry: what does it mean to be local?
Ali is currently the Chair of the Communication Law and Policy Division of the International Communication Association and Associate Editor of the journal Communication Law & Policy. He also serves on the Federal Communication Commission’s Communication Equity and Diversity Council Working Group and is a board member of Charlottesville Tomorrow, a non-profit news organization in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a member of the technology advisory board of Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California. In the fall 2022 semester, Christopher will be a short-term visiting faculty fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communications (CARGC) at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, he has held fellowships at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society (2019-2020), the Global Future Council of the World Economic Forum (2018), the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communications (CARGC) at the University of Pennsylvania (2017), the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University (2016-2017) and the University of Fribourg in Fribourg Switzerland (2015).
In the News
- FCC adopts rules to eliminate ‘digital discrimination’ for communities with poor internet access
- Telecommunications professor Christopher Ali meets students ‘at a personal level,’ brings broadband expertise
- Rural broadband author touts local ownership of networks
- Rural America continues to face internet connectivity challenges
105C Carnegie Building