Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Just Rates for Incarcerated Communications

Today a group of almost 80 organizations wrote to Senators McConnell, Schumer, Wicker and Cantwell to request that the Senate include the COVID-19 Compassion and Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice provisions, H.R. 6800, §§130701-03, in the next COVID-19 package enacted into law. Those provisions would: 1) immediately reduce rates for voice calls, capping the cost of all calls at $0.04 per minute for prepaid calls and $0.05 per minute for collect calls, 2) end site commission payments between phone companies and correctional agencies; and 3) clearly establish the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intrastate communications as well as fees of all kinds.

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In a time when our country is focused on the importance of affordable communication during a pandemic, the value of Black Lives, and the systemic flaws in our criminal justice system, it just makes sense for Congress to ensure that no one can be charged predatory rates to talk to their loved ones in prison, jail or detention. The Christian tradition teaches us that incarcerated people are worthy of dignity and respect in every way--whether it is the right to fair treatment inside, support reintegrating into society or the ability to speak to a child without sacrificing economic security. The time for Congress to act is now."

The letter and petitions with a total of 75,000 signatures were discussed at a press conference on August 11, 2020. A recording of the press conference is available here.

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Categories: prison phone

Civil rights & non-profits seek help for low-income consumers

United Church of Christ, OC Inc., the National Consumer Law Center and the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council collaborated to submit a letter asking the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to assist low-income consumers. Specifically, the letter asks the FCC to:

  • Extend COVID-related waivers through the end of the year;

  • Restore Lifeline voice support to the $9.25/month subsidy;

  • Freeze the Lifeline minimum service standards for broadband service until the FCC completes a pending study on the program or increases the existing Lifeline benefit amount.

The letter was signed by a diverse array of civil rights, anti-poverty, consumer, labor, faith and technology rights organizations, specifically:

Access Humboldt
Black Female Founders (#BFF)
Center for Rural Strategies
Common Sense Media
Communications Workers of America
Dialogue on Diversity, Inc.
Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP)
Japanese American Citizens League
LGBT Technology Partnership
MediaJustice
Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC)
NAACP
National Blacks In Government, Inc.
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients
National Digital Inclusion Alliance
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO)
National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women
New America's Open Technology Institute
Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, on behalf of our low income clients
Public Knowledge
Florida State Senator Audrey Gibson, Senate Democratic Leader
United Church of Christ, OC Inc.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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Prison phone justice needs Congress, FCC Action Welcome

The helpful, but limited, action today by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to the predatory costs of communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones demonstrates the need for federal legislation to address this issue. As has been widely documented, including most recently by the FCC, the costs of calling incarcerated people are "egregiously high." People are sometimes paying almost $25 for a 15-minute call. Further, as the FCC explains, the vote today will address only 20 percent of relevant calls. Congressional action is needed so that the FCC can address the remaining 80 percent.

 

Nonetheless, the FCC today is appropriately voting to reassert its authority over almost all fees, because it is impossible to distinguish between fees related to in-state calls or calls between states. In addition, the FCC is initiating a proceeding to propose lower rates for the 20 percent of calls over which it has jurisdiction. Cheryl A. Leanza, the UCC's policy advisor stated, "The vote at the is a welcome redirection under the present FCC." Ms. Leanza explained, "Our conversations with the FCC about the Further Notice were productive and we look forward to actively participating in a wide-ranging proceeding. The additional questions will enable the FCC to move more quickly to make changes in the future. But it is unfortunate that this vote took so long given that the initial remand from federal court occurred three years ago."

 

In addition, Ms. Leanza noted, "because the FCC's analysis concluded GTL misrepresented its costs to the Commission and the record showed that Securus is imposing fees not permitted by the FCC's rules, I hope to see the FCC move quickly to take enforcement action against those companies."

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Categories: prison phone

National Day of Mourning and the Language of the Unheard

This blog is also available on Medium.

Today we stand with our civil rights colleagues, our siblings of color and all people in a national day of mourning for the toll our government has inflicted on African-Americans. We urge you to take time today to mourn, to grieve and to rededicate yourself to anti-racism and to justice. We are rededicating ourselves to the work of communications rights and media justice as part of our work to a just society.

The events of this week and last combine the power of the media, technology and the power of prayer and the anguish of people who see and know that their voices are not being heard. As our colleagues in the United Church of Christ in Minnesota reminded us, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Media justice and communications rights are about the language of the unheard. Our country started to learn these lessons when in the 1960s we faced riots in the streets of African-American communities, and the Presidential Kerner Commission concluded that racism and segregation in the media was part of the problem leading to that unrest.

Now, as then, media can show us the current manifestations of centuries of structural racism, pressing down our family members, friends and colleagues because of the color of their skin. Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution. Social media can reveal to us the horrible actions of police officers killing African Americans without provocation. It can allow us to organize and support each other, to find solutions and human connection even when a pandemic requires us to be physically apart. But traditional and social media can inflame hate and vitriol, turning ignorance, anger and fear into violence with the power of a lighted match on dry tinder.

Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution.

The power of prayer can hold our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in our hearts and see their pain, it can bring everyone the strength to work together for a better world. And yet faith can be used as an excuse to maim, harm, dehumanize others.

UCC Clergy-led protest in Minneapolis

We have seen the President go after social media companies for following their own freely-adopted policies against violent and dehumanizing language. We have seen peaceful protesters attacked in front of a church for a photo-op. We join with the national setting of the United Church of Christ in condemning the modern lynching of Black people — carried out today with guns and choke holds by employees of the state.

The UCC’s requiem for Ahmaud Arbery

In these moments it is easy to break apart, shut down and give up. And as Rev. William J. Barber III said last Sunday, “We cannot try to hurry up and put the screams and the tears and the hurt back in the bottle, just to get back to some normal that was abnormal in the first place. Hear the screams. Feel the tears. The very people rejected over and over again are the ones who have shown us the possibility of a more perfect nation. They are telling us these wounds are too much. This death is too much.” We must stop and hear our siblings crying and gasping for breath. We must take time to nurse our wounded souls, reach out in support. We must use our communications tools to see each other and hear each other and tell the stories of the people we have lost.

Today is a day to mourn. And tomorrow we must take up our tools, our stories, our words and get back to work to bring about the justice that we know, one day, we can make real.


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Categories: media diversity  |  Online Hate

HEROES Act a Victory for the Right2Connect!

The new HEROES Act released today, H.R. 6800, contains an incredible commitment to the communications rights of all people. The consumer protection and telecommunications provisions championed by Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Pallone recognize that the right of all people in the U.S. to connect with each other during the novel coronavirus pandemic is not only a matter of mental health and economic survival, it is a matter of life and death. 

If all people, including low-income people, can afford high quality broadband, their lives can continue, to some degree, through personal connections, education, jobs, obtaining access to emergency benefits while they shelter in place to stop the spread of the virus.  If frontline low-income workers can rely on their mobile phones, they can fill grocery orders, keep our hospitals clean and continue to act as our emergency responders in this time of need.  If families can reach their incarcerated loved ones at fair rates, they can monitor their health and welfare and ensure they receive access to essential care given the horrific spread of COVID-19 among people in jail, prison or detention.  The HERO Act's communications provisions are essential for meeting these emergency needs. 

 

These proposals, combined with provisions that end cut-offs of Internet services, codify the Federal Communications Commission Keep Americans Connected Pledge and establish limits on price gouging make this legislation an impressive package that will establish secure rights to affordable communications. Congress should move quickly to adopt them into law.

 

"Congress should move quickly to adopt the communications provisions of the HEROES Act into law," said Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, "being without the Internet right now is not just a digital divide, it is a digital chasm and life and death hangs in the balance. If adopted, these proposals would ensure that all people, no matter their income level or status will have the digital tools they need to participate safely in civic and economic life."

 

To read more about the #right2connect, see The Right to Connect: Life or Death Right Now.


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