Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "broadband for everyone"

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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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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Affordable Communications for Low-Income People Under Threat -- AGAIN

One of our main advocacy tasks at OC Inc. is working with our allies to protect and enhance the incredible Lifeline program, which offers a subsidy to low-income households who qualify.  In some cases, the $9.25 monthly subsidy is enough to pay for a free mobile phone. 

Unfortunately the current Federal Communications Commission has set forth a series of unhelpful and paternalistic proposals that would harm Lifeline and make it more difficult for eligible families to use it.  We joined with the National Consumer Law Center to file comments last month and yesterday with our allies under the banner of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to push back against these destructive ideas.  At least we are gratified to know that these proposals received almost no support in the record before the FCC.  The FCC should not be able to adopt these ideas, but the threat of their implementation is destabilizing the program and the previous decisions the FCC adopted are hurting the chances for families to get access to affordable communications.

Learn more and join the coalition's efforts at www.savelifeline.org

Since a 1997 General Synod resolution, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized that we need to ensure we do not become a society divided between "information rich" and "information poor," which leaves struggling people without the tools to succeed in modern society.   

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FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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Trump Federal Communications Commission Keeps Its Dark Promises

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, like Donald Trump who appointed him, intends to keep his promises. His dissents as a minority Commissioner made clear his plans. This month, after squeaking through his confirmation vote in the Senate, he finally brings out the big guns.

He is fulfilling his promise to gut the FCC's program to assist low income people with the costs of telephone service and broadband.He is fulfilling his promise to turn over the media marketplace to a few, huge owners, while offering women and people of color a fig leaf of paper ownership that conveys no equity rights. And he intends to fulfill his promise next month to turn over Internet freedom to the control of a few large corporate ISPs. These are just a few examples of the decisions that will be adopted next month and the month after, some of which will be almost impossible to reverse if he succeeds.

Not only is he keeping his promises, he is again attempting to disguise them with technical terms and doublespeak that, heretofore, could only be found in George Orwell's dystopia. Thus, he attacks low-income households in a docket titled, "Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers," and his decision to ignore the pleas of civil rights leaders is called "Rules and Policies to Promote New Entry and Ownership Diversity in the Broadcasting Services." Could it be the Commission is secretly ashamed of its actions, using these euphemisms to disguise their favors for corporate America at the expense of the rest of the country?

Perhaps he uses these terms because he knows he is undermining the chances that anyone can question his decisions. The steps he is taking will tip the balance even more toward benefits for the privileged, leaving the most impacted behind, favoring fake news against fact-checked journalism. These decisions combined will mean less access to the Internet, less free speech on the Internet and more inflammatory, uniform broadcast content in cities and towns across the country. If he succeeds, as long as the names sound pretty, the dark effects underneath will be ignored.

The agenda released last night make clear that the Ajit Pai threat is terrifying, and it is no innocent Halloween joke. The scars of the Trump Administration continue, and with these decisions it may be that no journalists or activists will retain the tools needed to challenge them.

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