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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "prison phone"

Predatory Inmate Calling Rates

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

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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Prison Phone Rates Come Down Again Today

Today is another step toward justice in communications.  For the last several years, advocates, clergy, people of faith and many others around our country have been campaigning to lower predatory prison phone rates.  We in the United Church of Christ heard Jesus' call in Matthew 25 to remember and visit those in prison -- as Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler said when he gave the Parker Lecture in 2014 "the way you see people in prison today is using communications."

 

Our campaign asked the FCC to ensure that the families and friends of inmates are charged fair rates for phone calls.  We spoke out asking the FCC to follow up with its ruling lowering long distance rates and address local rates also.  Without this campaign prisons and jails were incentivized to set telephone rates because they received much of the profit from these calls.  Grandmothers and ministers were subsidizing the cost of jail and prison from their own pockets.

 

The good news is that the FCC heard us and adopted lower rates for local and long distance calls!  Thanks to everyone, UCC's JPANet and Justice and Witness Ministries, our interfaith partners and everyone who helped with this successful campaignMost of those new rules will go into effect today.  Unfortunately, because the prison phone companies and a number of states have challenged the FCC's new rules in court, we will need to wait to fully benefit from the new rules until the law suit is over--probably not until 2017.  As our policy advisor Cheryl Leanza said when the court acted, "Seemingly there is no limit to the lengths prison phone companies and sheriffs will go to keep their ill-gotten gains no matter the impact on these families, clergy, and lawyer-client communications."

We have issued a guide to help families and people in prison and jail understand which rates become effective today and what happens next.  

While we wait for the law suit to end, it is important to keep the pressure on the states and prison phone companies that are fighting just and reasonable rates.  Take action through the prison phone justice campaign, share messages on social media about these phone companies' greed and petition the state attorneys general that are thwarting prison phone justice with their legal action..

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Categories: prison phone



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