Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Affordable Broadband Door Opened

Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to modernize the Lifeline program today.  The Lifeline program subsidy for low-income consumers will now apply to broadband Internet access. 

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 vote to modernize Lifeline and to provide the first nationwide subsidy for low-income household access to broadband service will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of millions of families. United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners in the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been asking for the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband access since 2010. Commerce Department data from 2010 shows at the time, 42.9 percent of households earning $25,000 or less subscribed to broadband at home and that number has only inched up to about 46 or 47 percent today.

The Internet is the tool that unlocks the doors to information, jobs, education--and for too many low income people that door has remained locked. The Internet has been out of reach, glimpsed from afar courtesy of kind neighbors, 30 minute slots at the library, or by kids huddling outside school to catch a wi-fi signal to do their homework. Millions of households are waiting to unlock the door to economic equity and opportunity. Thursday's vote is a critical step toward that open door. 

 

Commissioner Clyburn has been dedicated to the needs of the "least of these" from the minute she was sworn in at the FCC. We thank Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn for their steadfast support for low-income people.

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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.  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

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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Prison Phone Court Action - Lower Rates Still Coming

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a partial stay this morning preventing the full force of the FCC's inmate calling caps from going into effect. The following can be attributed to Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ, OC Inc.:

 

The court's decision today is limited, it upholds the interim rates of 21 and 25 cents per minute. It will also permit the vast majority of the FCC's new limits on predatory fees surrounding prison phone calls, including limits on the cost of calls for deaf and hard of hearing inmates. It will defer until the end of the current law suit the new rates that would cap rates as low as 11 cents per minute for local and long-distance calling.

 

Families of incarcerated people have been waiting for decades to pay just and reasonable rates as mandated by the Communications Act--to enjoy the same rights as everyone else in this country. Their fight will ultimately prevail, but for now they will benefit from some extremely important improvements while they wait, yet again, for their interests to be vindicated in court. 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.

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