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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "low income phone subsidy"

United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman Pai

We congratulate Ajit Pai on being designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today.  We hope to work with Mr. Pai on many areas of common concern, such as media diversity and competition, affordable access to broadband, the end of predatory prison phone rates, and a free and open Internet.  Although Mr. Pai has often spoken eloquently about his commitment to these shared goals, we have not yet been able to find common ground on the means to these ends. 

We believe that media ownership diversity must be premised on hard data, detailed and rigorous study, rigorous enforcement of the FCC's rules, and ownership by women and people of color that does not leave them financially dependent upon large corporations or struggling to succeed as small companies in overly consolidated media markets. 


We believe that affordable access to broadband depends on a robust Lifeline program--a program that was built on conservative principles during the Reagan years as a public-private partnership using efficient market mechanisms to assist only those in need.  Low-income people will get affordable broadband if Lifeline is supported, not torn down, by communications policy leaders. 


We believe in fair and just telephone rates for the millions of children, families and clergy seeking to connect with in prison, detention centers and jails.  Leaders who agree, as Mr. Pai has said he does, that these rates are unjust and must be reduced have a moral obligation to defend and protect these innocent families.  Relying on the unverified, self-serving claims of companies and correctional facilities facing no limit on their desire to increase profits will lead to even more abusive rates.


We believe that, as the backbone of an increasing share of all our national conversations, a free and open Internet protected by Net Neutrality is fundamental to social justice.  All people must be able to speak with their own, God-given, voices, regardless of their incomes or races. Government leaders, locally and nationally, must be able to ensure that all children and families have access to affordable broadband in their schools and homes.  Our ability to speak and participate in civic discourse should not depend on whether we access the internet via a smartphone or a computer.  Commercial popularity should not be the sole arbiter of whether a story can be heard.


People of faith know the power of a story to change hearts and to change the world.  In modern times, we visit people in prison via telephone, we love our neighbors as ourselves online, and we care for the least of these because we view them (or not) on television.


Today, Mr. Pai must start the hard work of governing, rather than dissenting.  We will see whether Mr. Pai's policies produce an open marketplace of ideas or whether they simply support large corporate conglomerates that are politically indebted to an administration that has shown no reluctance to attack journalists for reporting the facts.  We will see whether low-income families get access to broadband or whether clergy can afford to call their congregants in prison.  We will see if the non-commercial stories of God are pushed to internet slow-lanes in favor of highly profitable commercial entertainment.  As part of the United Church of Christ, we believe in civil dialogue in disagreement, even as we remain committed to our prophetic witness for justice.  Even in times of great challenge, we commit to both.


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Victory on Economic Justice - Affordable Broadband

Yesterday we had a great, twofold victory for communications rights. The Lifeline program helps low-income people to find jobs, get an education and connect to emergency services by offering a modest financial subsidy to subscribe to telephone, and after a new FCC ruling takes effect this year, to Internet services. 


Advocates for social justice fended off a bill that would have crippled Lifeline by blocking Lifeline recipients from using mobile phone or internet services--this even though people of color are more likely to rely on mobile devices than other people. Allies from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Consumer Law Center, Media Action Grassroots Network and so many others online came out in opposition. Congressman Pallone and other champions of the Lifeline program defended it and voted to save it.


The bill, which was brought through an unusual process, forced through by House leadership, was voted down on the House floor. The loss was so substantial that another amendment to cap the program and block eligible families from obtaining their subsidies, that was to be offered later this week as part of a budget bill was withdrawn.


This program is essential, it has been recognized by the President as an important part of our policies to improve economic justice. Great thanks to everyone who wrote, tweeted, posted, made speeches yesterday to ensure that we can keep our communities connected.

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FCC Moves to Bridge the Digital Divide

The United Church of Christ has a long-standing commitment to economic justice and communications rights.   We envision a world where education and economic opportunity is open to everyone. The Internet is the tool today that many Americans use to successfully learn, find jobs, and engage in their communities, and yet one-third of U.S. households do not subscribe to broadband Internet at home. These families are left further and further behind while more fortunate people have better tools to succeed. Statistics show these burdens fall heavily on communities of color.

In pursuit of greater economic justice, UCC OC Inc., the UCC's media justice and communications rights ministry has been working with a large coalition of civil rights and public interest colleagues to increase low-income people's access to broadband. This morning the Federal Communications Commission announced it is moving ahead to take action in a vote at the end of this month. After this vote, we expect the FCC's Lifeline program will offer support for broadband Internet for low-income people in a meaningful way for the first time. Not only this, but we understand the draft circulated today adopts aggressive service standards for these products, meaning that low-income people will gain access to robust services that will fully meet their needs. The FCC has promised it will monitor carefully this new era to ensure that low-income people will be well-served by this program. The FCC will also take important steps to insure the program's integrity and increase the number of companies offering services through the program. 

We look forward to engaging with the FCC Commissioners and staff as they move forward on a most important step to address the broadband adoption gap, bringing the most vulnerable communities into the modern technological age.

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Access to High Tech Tools Needed for Economic Security

Today UCC OC Inc. is pleased to join two important expressions of support for the Obama Administration's proposal to modernize an existing program in order to provide financial support to low-income households who cannot afford broadband Internet service. UCC OC Inc. collaborated with many colleagues representing the civil rights community in preparation of the comments submitted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The comments explained the long-standing civil rights community support of this program, called Lifeline, and the need to update it by the end of this year. While 92 percent of households with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 have broadband service, the adoption rate is only 47 percent for households with income below $25,000 and marked disparities continue for other groups, such as people of color, people with disabilities, seniors and others.


Cheryl Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, explained, "Internet access is so ubiquitous that many of us have to explain to our children how we managed without the Internet in the 'old days,' but unfortunately almost one-third of the U.S. population knows only too well what life without the Internet is like. The Lifeline program must be retooled for the 21st Century." The Leadership Conference comments reiterated support for the broadly-supported June Lifeline Principles, which call for a program design that ensures universality; excellence; choice and competition; innovation; and efficiency, transparency, and accountability. The comments outlined support for various aspects of the proposed modernization which will ensure that low-income people are able to use the program to obtain the highest quality services possible, take further steps to eliminate fraud, and adopt administrative reforms that will encourage broad corporate participation in the public-private program.


Specifically, the Leadership Conference comments suggested the FCC:

  • Adopt a functional standard for services eligible for Lifeline that would allow households to complete a variety of important online activities online, while also establishing a clear demarcation of products that are of such low quality as to be undeserving of universal service support;
  • Incentivize providers to offer the best services to consumers, possibly by offering more Lifeline support for higher-quality services and less for lower-quality services;
  • Utilize market and Lifeline data to monitor utilization of the program;
  • Continue vital support for mobile and voice-only services;
  • Implement a centralized third-party eligibility verification system in phases, in a manner that will facilitate portability and consumer choice without negatively impacting Lifeline participants;
  • Adopt participation as a goal for Lifeline and reject proposals that would inhibit it, such as proposals that would result in waiting lists, loss of participant support mid-stream, or mandatory minimum payments;
  • Create incentive grants to facilitate Lifeline reliance on state databases.

In addition, UCC OC Inc. joined with many of the organizations representing low-income consumers signing on to a more detailed filing authored primarily by the National Consumer Law Center.   The more detailed comments lay out how low-income people can best be served by the national Lifeline program.

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Lifeline Expansion for Affordable Broadbland

In advance of the Federal Communications Commission vote to initiate a proceeding to consider the modernization of the low-income Lifeline program, Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry issued the following statement:
We are delighted that the FCC is taking this important step.  The Lifeline program has been successful since 1985 to help ensure low-income people have access to essential communications services.  Broadband is now an essential service, without which we cannot fully participate in society.  Along with our colleagues in the civil rights community, we have been asking the FCC to modernize the Lifeline program to support broadband since 2010.  The FCC should act swiftly to modernize Lifeline this year.

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