Open & Affordable Communications

Open & Affordable Communications

Even as communications is a human right, many persons cannot afford to purchase information services and the equipment they need to access them.

Since the adoption of a 1997 General Synod resolution, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized the need to ensure that our society does not become divided between those who are “information rich” and those who are “information poor,” leaving struggling people without the tools they need to succeed in today’s society.

Communications Justice for Incarcerated People

In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus explains that we show our love of God by the way we treat “the least of these” among us, including those in prison. “I was in prison, and you visited me,” Jesus says. “When did we visit you?” ask his followers. Jesus replies: “As you did it to one of the least of these, brothers and sisters, so you did it to me.”

The rates charged for communicating with persons held in jail or detention centers are often predatory and exorbitant.

Some prisons or jails charge almost $17 for a 15-minute local telephone call and some prison phone companies charge up to $8.20 for the first minute of a local call from a jail. These outrageous rates hurt families financially and make it more difficult for their loved ones to succeed when they are released from prison and return home.

These rates are set when a prison signs a contract with a company to provide service. In many cases, phone companies offer to collect additional “commissions” from consumers that are passed on to the facility—costs that are borne by family members, friends, clergy, lawyers and counselors. Predatory rates can be addressed in two ways: 1) federal and state regulators can require phone companies to charge rates that are just and reasonable; 2) federal state and local governments that run carceral facilities can stop negotiating outrageous rates and can choose, instead, to absorb the cost of calls, just like other utilities, to make them free for families and loved ones.

At the national level, UCC Media Justice is working with members of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to address this issue. UCC Media Justice also supports a coalition that is working at the state and local level to promote free calls for prisoners. We support campaigns around the country, like Connect Families Now to campaign for free calls at the state and local level.

Affordable Access to Modern Communications

Until recently, the programs that helped low-income families purchase internet or telephone services were extremely limited.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and urgent advocacy by UCC Media Justice and other allies, Congress adopted several new programs to address this issue. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has recently made changes in the so-called Lifeline program to provide more assistance to low-income consumers.

New State Digital Justice Advocacy Toolkit

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for digital justice: write to your state broadband office with this new easy-to-use resource.

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