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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "prison phone"

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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Strong Prison Phone Legislation Introduced by Rep. Rush

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry is very pleased to see long-time champion Representative Bobby Rush's new legislation addressing the predatory costs of communicating with incarcerated people, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, H.R. 6389. Mr. Rush has been a leader on this issue since the 2000s. His new legislation immediately sets significantly improved rates for voice calls and clearly establishes federal jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intra-state communications as well as fees of all kinds. It is future-proof, leaving no technological loopholes. It will enable the Federal Communications Commission to pick up where it left off and protect families, clergy, and loved ones from unjust and unreasonable rates. 

 

"Congratulations to Representative Rush. We urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to quickly hold hearings and move to markup on this critical legislation," said Earl Williams, OC Inc.'s board chair. "This bill, along with Senator Duckworth's bi-partisan bill in the Senate, increases the hope of incarcerated people and their families that they will finally gain the same consumer protections as all people in the U.S."

 

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In this time when so many families, clergy and friends are not permitted to visit their incarcerated loved ones during the COVID-19 epidemic, just and reasonable rates to communicate are more important than ever. Incarcerated people are facing crowded conditions and potentially insufficient health care. Without communication with the outside, it is impossible to monitor their safety."


UCC's media justice ministry is also currently encouraging everyone to join the MediaJustice campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to act immediately to secure relief for incarcerated people and their families.


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Categories: prison phone

Predatory Inmate Calling Rates

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Categories: prison phone

Inmate Communications Justice Benefits from New Bipartisan Effort

Sens. Duckworth, Booker, Portman, Schatz introduced today a finely crafted bill that will rightfully return to the FCC its authority to stop predatory prison phone rates across the country. 

 

"This bill is a much-needed remedy to an extremely detrimental court decision last year," said Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., a primary backer of the bill. "Families, clergy and loved ones have been suffering for decades and the new legislation will restore power to the Federal Communications Commission to establish just and reasonable rates."

 

After a decade of delay, between 2012 and 2016, the Federal Communications Commission began to address predatory rates to telephone people in prison, jail and detention centers. Over those years the FCC reigned in long distance rates to 21 and 25 cents per minute, capped local rates at the same levels with a few exceptions for smaller jails, and imposed limits on the egregious fees which accompany inmate calling. These rulings were viciously attacked in the courts.

 

Inmate calling companies and a few states (led by then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt) sued to stop the FCC's rules. Partially in response to an FCC that did not fully defend the rules, a federal appellate court blocked the rules and cramped the authority granted to the FCC. In one most egregious example, the court concluded that the term "fair" meant that rates should be fair to phone companies but need not be fair to consumers. 

 

Ms. Leanza explained, "the Inmate Technical Correction Act is a critical step to ensuring that previous efforts at the FCC are reestablished." FCC Chairman Pai and Commissioner Carr articulated the need for legislation in their confirmation hearing; Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel are outspoken supporters of ending the abuse of consumers in this market.

 

"The entire prison phone justice community owes a debt of gratitude to Senators Duckworth, Booker, Portman and Schatz for joining together and backing this legislation. No one believes the inmate communications market is working, and this bill will put fairness to consumers back into the equation," said Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor for the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc.

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Categories: prison phone

Support for the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017

The saga of families and children seeking to maintain relationships with their loved ones in prison and jail has been on-going since early last decade. For every step forward toward more just treatment, affordable rates and fees, the prison phone industrial complex strikes back, demonstrating their chokehold on the service offerings for these people. The most recent actions by the Federal Communications Commission have failed these communities, leaving them in a market that all observers characterize as broken. 

 

Senator Duckworth's new legislation, S. 1614, the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017, will eliminate any question regarding the Federal Communications Commission's authority to stop these practices and will address just uses of and charges for video calling services.  

 

Since the bi-partisan leadership of the Federal Communications Commission supports legislative efforts to cement the FCC's authority to act in this area, we urge the Senate Commerce Committee to quickly take up this bill.

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Categories: prison phone



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