UCC Media Justice

UCC Media Justice Update

End Predatory Costs of Communication for Incarcerated People, Support S. 1541 and H.R. 2489

The cost of communicating with incarcerated people is often predatory and extractive. One in three families with an incarcerated loved one goes into debt trying to maintain contact. While some jails charge almost $17 for a 15-minute local call, others charge only 45 cents. These outrageous rates harm families and make it more difficult for incarcerated people to succeed when they return home.

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the current marketplace for communication in correctional facilities has failed to produce reasonable and competitive rates. Incarcerated people and their families are not able to choose the phone company they use to communicate. Carceral officials negotiate contracts in an anti-competitive and consolidated marketplace. Often phone companies offer to collect additional ‘commissions’ from consumers in order to make substantial payments to those institutions, which are borne by grandmothers, children, loved ones, clergy and counsel.

Although the Federal Communications Commission regulates phone rates, and Congress gave it authority over all rates for incarcerated people in 1996, a decision by a federal appellate court in 2017 derailed its previous decades-long effort to protect consumers.

Two pieces of legislation in the U.S. House and Senate, both named after Martha Wright—a grandmother who was a leader in fighting for just and reasonable rates before her death—aim to address this problem. The bills are Senator Tammy Duckworth’s bi-partisan S. 1541, the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act and Representative Bobby Rush’s H.R. 2489, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act. These bills must become law because of their key features.

In Mathew 25:35-40 Jesus explains that the way we treat “the least of these” among us are emblematic of the way we treat God, 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.”

Protect consumers. The bills reaffirm Congress’ 1996 decision giving the FCC authority over all carceral rates and requires rates to be “just and reasonable”—the same standard that protects all other consumers.

Future-proof. Today’s correctional communications providers utilize advanced technology to save costs and provide security. Both bills apply regardless of technology used, including to video communications.

Fair ratemaking process. Both bills ensure that the FCC can use its standard processes to adopt rates. S. 1541 requires a rulemaking to be completed in 18 months and permits the FCC to use appropriate data. H.R. 2489 requires regular rulemakings to ensure rates keep pace with current trends, prohibits per-call charges and limits ancillary fees.

Site commissions, interim rate cap. H.R. 2489 prohibits payments from a phone company to a carceral institution and adopts an immediate interim rate cap of 4 and 5 cents per minute until the FCC completes its rulemaking proceedings.  

This is UCC Media Justice's new, updated resource guide on current legislation pending to address predatory costs of communication for incarcerated people and their families. A pdf is available for download.


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Categories: prison phone

Statement on Signing of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry celebrates Congress' passage and the President's signature on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This legislation strengthens the United States' previous down payment to ensure high speed broadband internet is affordable to all people and adopts new programs to fund state and local community efforts working to improve digital adoption.

President Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on November 15, 2021

The $14 Billion invested in affordable broadband services and the expansion of eligibility standards will go a long way to ensuring that every household in the country can purchase the wired broadband necessary to serve a whole household. The Digital Equity Act, which was incorporated into the IIJA, dedicates $360 million in planning and other grants through 2027. This legislation will help ensure critical outreach and support for families and individuals who are purchasing internet services for the first time will be well-supported. The legislation also includes considerable funds to build out infrastructure to communities that do not have access to the Internet at all, or are limited to old, slow connections.


These provisions were part of bi-partisan legislation, focusing on the needs of everyday people. When some of our community members are left off modern communications networks, the whole community suffers. Our society suffers when our neighbors can't find jobs, when the kids down the block can't access education, and when the elderly person who is dear to us is left behind. Almost every aspect of our society was moving online and that transition was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic.


In addition to the important affordability provisions, the IIJA also adopted a historic provision prohibiting discrimination in broadband deployment.


Communications is a human right — a tool that connects us to our communities, helps to disclose injustice, and facilitate innumerable aspects of modern life. 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. Congress' most recent enactment will move us close to that goal.

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UCC Media Justice responds to new Biden nominees

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC Media Justice policy advisor:

After too long a wait, we finally have a great line-up nominated at the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Agency.


Jessica Rosenworcel, nominated for Chair, well-deserves the President's confidence. She has shown herself committed to the agency and to the public interest. During her long tenure, Acting Chair Rosenworcel has proven her fidelity to the just treatment of all, fair and robust competition and inclusion of those who are normally excluded from Commission proceedings. She is more knowledgeable than most, willing to partner on any outreach—no matter how small, and committed to adopting smart policies. Jessica Rosenworcel can take any arcane policy issues and quickly show how it hurts or helps the ordinary person. We look forward to her quick action charting a path to address a long list of FCC responsibilities which has been awaiting a fully-staffed Commission.


Gigi Sohn is a tremendous addition to the Federal Communications Commission, having served her career in civil society and in government. She will remain laser focused on policies that ensure the public access to diverse sources of news and information as well as ensuring all people will have access to modern communications at competitive and fair prices. She will make sure all voices are heard as policies are made. As someone who learned from Gigi in the earliest phases of my career, seeing her stellar skills rewarded with this seat is gratifying.


The FCC team of Rosenworcel, Sohn and current Commissioner Geoffrey Starks will be well-positioned to work together, reinforcing their common effort toward fulfilling the Communications Act's primary directive, "to make available … to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service…." Rarely has there been so much to do and such a great team to do it at the FCC. Now that the President has finally named his nominees, the public is counting on these leaders to waste no time in getting the job done through collaboration, strategy and trust. 


Alan Davidson brings a diversity of experience, from his time at the Center for Democracy and Technology, to his role in founding Google's first D.C. office, to his previous stint at NTIA as the director of the digital economy to his role at Mozilla. Alan's diverse skillset and vast network will be an asset as NTIA takes on its the many critical roles, including its role in ensuring digital inclusion and broadband deployment help all communities.

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Leanza appears before U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee, Presses for Phone Justice

Cheryl A. Leanza testifies virtually before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology

Yesterday, October 6, 2021, Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Energy & Commerce Committee at a hearing titled, “Strengthening Our Communications Networks to Meet the Needs of Consumers.”

Leanza's oral testimony focused on expressing support for pending legislation sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Il), H.R. 2489, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act. The legislation will immediately set interim rates for calls to incarcerated people of 4 and 5 cents per minute, firmly establish the Federal Communications Commission's jurisdiction over all calls to carceral facilities, and require the FCC to conduct regular proceedings to ensure rates keep pace with market conditions. At this time, because of a court decision in 2017, the Federal Communications Commission cannot regulate local calls that occur inside a state, and FCC analysis showed that in some states those calls cost as much as $24.80 for a 15-minute call.


Leanza spoke of the impact high rates have on families, asking the Subcommittee "Could your marriage survive on a few 15-minute calls per week?" and noting that families are going into debt to pay for phone calls. She quoted Diane Lewis, mom of an incarcerated son:


I’ve seen the difference between my son, who has a lot of support, and others in prison who can’t make phone calls or never have family visits. There’s a big difference, and it’s why they struggle while inside and often go back after. It’s the anger and depression that comes with doing time by yourself, and the lack of practical support needed when you get out.


She invoked the biblical teaching of Matthew 25:36-40, urging Congress to pass H.R. 2489 in order to care for those society often considers "the least" among us.

Her written testimony and a video of the full hearing are available on the Subcommittee's hearing web site, Leanza's opening statement starts at 00:38.

Earlier this week UCC OC Inc. joined with New America's Open Technology Institute, Free Press, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Knowledge and the Benton Institute to file comments at the Federal Communications Commission which is conducting a proceeding on whether to lower long distance/interstate rates and fees and on further steps needed to address the communications needs of people with disabilities who are incarcerated. In August, UCC OC Inc. collaborated with Public Knowledge to file a Petition for Reconsideration of the FCC's previous order on carceral communications, urging the Commission to provide a more robust legal analysis and to ensure no loopholes permit states or localities to charge rates that exceed existing caps.

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Categories: prison phone

Love Your Neighbor: Get Them Internet!

Boy at computer using mouse.The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry is participating in a week-long effort to ensure that low-income families and individuals are taking advantage of a new program offering them a $50 discount per month for home internet ($75 on tribal lands). The new program, called the Emergency Broadband Benefit was passed by Congress as part of COVID-19 relief efforts, began offering subsidies in May 2021. While response to the new program has been good, as of now millions of eligible people are leaving this money on the table. The faith community can be a critical player to meet this need as our communities are experts on one-on-one outreach. UCC offered a webinar describing the program, a recording and the slides are available.


The United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry is distributing a one-page flyer (also in Spanish) that can be easily used to get the word out to families who are not online. UCC churches, individual people of faith, and anyone who cares can use the flyer.


The Emergency Broadband Benefit program has wide eligibility:

  • Income-based federal benefits like SNAP (food stamps), SSI, federal public housing assistance or Medicaid;
  • Free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast; Received a federal Pell Grant during the current school year;
  • Substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020;
  • And more…. check out out ebbhelp.org or in Spanish at ebbhelp.org/es/

People can apply several ways:

  • Call the FCC at 833–511–0311 or connect online with the Federal Communications Commission at GetEmergencyBroadband.org; or
  • Work with your local internet company to apply — major companies like Comcast, Charter (Spectrum), AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are participating and can help you get connected. Ask your local company.

Once a household successfully applies, the consumer pays the discounted price (sometimes free) and the federal funds go directly to the company to offset the difference.

UCC churches, conferences, associations and individual members, along with our faith-based and humanitarian partners should:

  1. Share copies of the flyer via any direct service project or partners serving low-income people.
  • Run a soup kitchen? Make copies and distribute flyers.
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or homeless shelter? Bring copies of the flyer to distribute.
  • Volunteering at a community event? Bring flyers and help people read them.
  • If someone is interested after seeing the flyer, use your phone to connect to these simple easy-to-use web sites, or help them call the toll free number to learn more and apply.
  1. Individuals can share flyers with neighbors, or post the flyer on local community bulletin boards, bring copies with them when they volunteer or to Sunday services or Sunday school families.


The flyers include phone numbers to reach government staff who can help individuals to sign up and mobile friendly web pages which explain eligibility in an easy-to-understand format.

The collaborative outreach week is occurring September 30 through October 1, but the effort to sign people up for the program will continue throughout the fall.

UCC’s media justice ministry held a short webinar to describe the program and answer questions, a recording and the slides are available.

Cheryl A. Leanza, the leader of UCC’s media justice work said, “I am so pleased that the work we did advocating for this program in Washington, DC bore fruit. I am hopeful our faith communities can get this critical assistance into the homes of people who need it.”


Take action:

If you take action, share via the hashtag #GetConnectedEBB and #UCCMediaJustice

The United Church of Christ is a faith community rooted in justice. It established the Office of Communication, Inc. in 1959 as its ministry working to create just and equitable communications structures that give meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas. Learn more about UCC’s media justice ministry at www.uccmediajustice.org.

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