Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "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

New Prison Phone Rates Guide

When will new rules go into effect?

The FCC adopted two effective dates for the new local rates and fee caps -- March 17 for prisons, and June 20 for jails and smaller institutions. 

 

What is the long distance per minute rate? 

The long distance (calls between two states) rate for the whole country to and from prisons and jails is still 21 cents for debit calls and 25 cents for collect calls.  That does not change. 

What are the local per minute rates?

Local rates are not currently affected by the FCC's ruling anywhere--the rules were temporarily blocked by the courts.  If your state has set lower local rates, then the lower local rate applies.   We will not have national per-minute rate caps on local calls until the court case about the FCC's rules, we expect a decision in 2017.

 

What happens to per-call fees or flat rate calling?

Those fees are now banned for both local and long distance calls.  No more calls that cost one price no matter how long you talk according to the effective dates above - March 17 for prisons and June 20 for jails.

What will the fees be? 

After March 17 for prisons and after June 20 for jails, ONLY the following fees are permitted to call to and from prison and:

 

Type of Fee

Cap

Automated payment by phone or website

$3.00

Payment through a live agent

$5.95

Paper bill fee

$2.00

NO prepaid account minimum payments

 

NO prepaid account limits less than 50

 

Third-party fees (such as from Western Union) or mandatory taxes and regulatory fees passed through with no markup.

 

 

When will we see the 11 cents per minute and 14 cents per minute rates we heard so much about?

 

Those are coming, but we must wait until the court considers the whole legal case about the new rules.  Our best guess is early 2017 before we know the outcome of the law suit.  UCC OC Inc. and our allies are filing in the law suit to speak up for families and inmates.

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Categories: prison phone

Prison Phone Rate Victory

In anticipation of the Federal Communications Commission vote tomorrow on inmate calling, the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry issued its strong support of the Federal Communications Commission vote tomorrow capping local prison phone rates.

 

"The vote tomorrow is a victory, no questions asked," said Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor for the historic ministry.  "The FCC is not only capping the rates paid by families but cracking down on fees that could otherwise have been a source of abuse."

 

Because of the limits on both rates and fees, the commissions previously paid by phone companies to jails, prisons and detention centers will be severely curtailed.  "I can see why Global Tel Link and some prison phone companies might want the FCC to stop commissions in addition to capping rates," continued Leanza, "those companies would like to keep all of the revenue and pass none of it on to correctional facilities.  But make no mistake, the only entities harmed by tomorrow's vote are the phone companies that have been gouging families and pastors for so long."

UCC OC Inc. and many civil rights and criminal justice organizations signed a letter just before the record closed, laying out their strong support for the FCC's planned vote. 

 

UCC OC Inc. has been working with a long list of allies, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for Media Justice, Prison Policy Initiative, many faith leaders, and the Prison Phone Justice campaign and all of its members.  A rally celebrating the FCC's order is planned for Thursday morning at 9:30 am outside the FCC.

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Categories: prison phone



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