FCC

Future of the Internet Public Hearing: Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010, 6 p.m. in Minneapolis

On August 19, Free Press, Main Street Project and the Center for Media Justice are co-hosting a public hearing on the Future of the Internet. This important hearing is a valuable opportunity for those outside of Washington to share their ideas, experiences and concerns with the FCC.
 

Prison Phone Justice Advocates Tell Commissioner Clyburn: The Time is Now

On Friday February 1st, 60 people attended a public hearing on prison telephone rates in New York City co-hosted by Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.  Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was a special guest speaker and marked the first time an FCC Commissioner was present at a public hearing regarding the high cost of prison telephone calls.  Over 10 people  testified, ranging from impacted families, ministers, advocates and civil rights leaders.  

Christopher Mitchell: The FCC Chief Is Awesome at His Job if You Own a Big Cable Company

In a recent column, Chairman Genachowski explains why the U.S. Needs 'Gigabit Communities.' He's right, but refuses to do anything meaningful to get us there. It starts off with an accurate observation...

Walking the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show last week, I kept thinking of that line from Jaws, "You're going to need a bigger boat." All the Internet-connected, data-hungry gadgets that are coming to market sent a strikingly clear message: we're going to need faster broadband networks.

PRESS RELEASE: FCC Takes the First Step To End Pricey Prison Calls

Washington DC- Today, at a rally for fair prison phone rates, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn announced that Chairman Genachowski has begun circulating a further notice of proposed rulemaking for a vote.  This marked the first step forward in a ten- year effort to make the price of inter-state calls from prison affordable.

The midday rally, sponsored by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, brought together more than 150 people to call on the Federal Communications Commission to end the high cost of calls from prison by establishing a cap.  Holding signs and singing, the crowd was visibly moved by the words of Commissioner Clyburn, “I have been working with Chairman Genachowski, my fellow Commissioners, and our wonderful staff, to grant the Wright Petition, and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will lead to lower interstate long distance rates from correctional facilities.”

Offering a special thank you to campaign leaders including the Media Action Grassroots Network, Prison Legal News and Working Narratives, Commissioner Clyburn remarked that a notice isn’t the end of the process, but is a critical first step.

“The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is incredibly excited that the FCC has taken notice of the tremendous bi-partisan support for fair phone rates on calls from prison,“ said Steven Renderos, National Organizer at the Media Action Grassroots Network. “Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement is an incredible beginning.  After 10 years of waiting, we hope the Commission keeps moving forward to finalize these rules.  When families are forced to choose between buying groceries and paying an expensive phone bill, every minute counts.”

Campaign spokespeople were joined by Timothy Robinson, Legislative Director for the Honorable Bobby Rush; Participant Media’s Social Action Campaign representing the film, Middle of Nowhere; Prison Policy Initiative and Sum of Us; faith leaders like Pastor Mark Ehrlichmann who ministers to deaf and hard of hearing inmates, United Church of Christ President Reverend Geoffrey Black, and f

Clarissa Ramon: Captive Customers Ask FCC for Relief

Crossposted from Public Knowledge

Recently, the FCC has received hundreds of letters from prisoners across the country asking Chairman Genachowski for action on the Wright petition, which calls on the agency to provide a solution for exorbitant prison phone rates. These letters are result of the Prison Phone Justice Campaign where campaign partner Prison Legal News ran an ad in their newspaper, asking incarcerated individuals to share their personal experiences.

Want to Start a Radio Station? We Want to Help!

By Steven Renderos, Center for Media Justice

We now have the opportunity of a lifetime to empower our communities through radio. The Federal Communications Commission has just voted to clear the airwaves and expand community radio across the U.S.! This is our chance to own media that reflects our voices, culture, and stories.

The time is now to take back our the airwaves, SIGN UP NOW to start your own radio station!

In Kentucky, Rural Access to Basic Phone Service Threatened by Telecom-Backed Bill

By Cheryl Leanza, Consultant for Progressive States Network 

Should the phone company be required to offer basic phone service to a state’s rural residents? That’s the question currently being considered by a committee in Kentucky’s State Senate.

The National Rural Assembly released a letter this week expressing concerns about the bill, SB 135, arguing that it “threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Prison Phones: Making Millions by Draining Families

By Clarissa Ramon of Public Knowledge| February 06, 2012

It is cheaper to call Singapore at 12 cents a minute from your Verizon cell phone than it would be to speak to someone in prison in this country. The burden of having a family member or loved one in prison is already heavy, making matters worse is the reality that families are continuously rung dry by expensive calls which include profitable “kickbacks” to the prisons themselves.

According to Prison Legal News, the cost of making a long distance phone call from a prison in Oregon includes a $3.95 connection fee plus .69 cents a minute, costing $14.30 for a 15-minute call. Compare this with making a public call outside of prison which costs anywhere from 05 to 10 cents per minute for long distance calls on landlines, costing a maximum of $1.50 for a 15-minute call.

For many families with loved ones behind bars, the choice between accepting a collect call and putting food on the table is a real and painful decision.  It may come as a surprise to many that the increased cost of these calls has nothing to do with the actual service that is being delivered. What is actually happening is that prisons have designed a business system that allows them to offset their operation costs onto the shoulders of innocent families and to reap a profit. 

The state prison kickback rate varies, with Texas accepting a 40% commission rate for phone calls and charging up to $6.45 for a 15-minute call. That same phone call provided by the same company in Maryland yields a 60% commission rate and costs a family member $17.30.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency that regulates phone companies has rules that prevent monopolies in order to favor competition.  These rules, however, do not extend to the prison phone system resulting in monopoly rates for inmates.  This lack of oversight allows prisons to establish contracts with phone companies that include fees in the forms of kickbacks to the prison.  These kickbacks function as contractual bribes in exchange for a company’s monopoly over a prisons communication system with the outside world.  This has created a situation in which prisons select the contract with the highest costs, to add a greater profit to their coffers.

The cycle becomes more abhorrent as the U.S. government has increasingly turned to private industries to run its prisons. The prison phone system within the United States is a lucrative business estimated to gross $362 million per year. 42% of that cost or 152 million are kickbacks. Many states are quick to accept monies that fill gaps within their own budgets. To put it plainly, the public service of the rehabilitation of inmates has been turned into a multi-million dollar industry, at the cost of innocent families of inmates. 

While rates within the Inmate Telephone System used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons remain fairly low at $.06 per minute for local calls, and $.23 for long distance debit calls, long distance collect calls remain steep with $2.45 initial cost and $.40 per additional minute. Long distance calls are the most lucrative because many prisoners are transferred to out of state to facilities that have more room or run at a lower cost. The majority of prisoners don’t readily have access to funds from which they can cover the costs of the call deferring them to the collect call system, leaving it up to the recipient pay for the charges. Charges which include various “fees” such as the ones charged by private companies like Securus, which include a $2.99 “bill statement fee” and $6.95 “processing fee” for payments made online or, ironically, by phone.

In light of these disturbing trends, some states have made reforms and refused to participate in these abuses. Many states such as New York, New Mexico and Alaska have discontinued the practice of accepting kickbacks to some degree. In California for example, before SB. 81 was passed, long distance calls were as high as $3.95 plus 89 cents per minute. After the passage of reform, calls are now significantly less at $1.52 plus 34 cents per minute. Lawmakers such as U.S. Rep Bobby Rush has proposed federal legislation in the form of H.R. 555, The Family Connection Protection Act of 2007 during the past two sessions that would provide relief for the families of inmates. The courts have also driven reform in states such as Florida, Washington and Louisiana, where companies were forced to repay millions to families of inmates’ for overcharges.

Despite these state-by-state reforms, it is time for the FCC to provide relief for families and reform the system by addressing a petition advocates have been pushing for since 2003.  The first step in this process is to become informed, Public Knowledge hopes that people will join our upcoming efforts to pressure the U.S. government to intervene and stop prisons from profiting off the hardships of the families of prisoners.  

It is cheaper to call Singapore at 12 cents a minute from your Verizon cell phone than it would be to speak to someone in prison in this country. The burden of having a family member or loved one in prison is already heavy, making matters worse is the reality that families are continuously rung dry by expensive calls which include profitable “kickbacks” to the prisons themselves.

According to Prison Legal News, the cost of making a long distance phone call from a prison in Oregon includes a $3.95 connection fee plus .69 cents a minute, costing $14.30 for a 15-minute call. Compare this with making a public call outside of prison which costs anywhere from 05 to 10 cents per minute for long distance calls on landlines, costing a maximum of $1.50 for a 15-minute call.

For many families with loved ones behind bars, the choice between accepting a collect call and putting food on the table is a real and painful decision.  It may come as a surprise to many that the increased cost of these calls has nothing to do with the actual service that is being delivered. What is actually happening is that prisons have designed a business system that allows them to offset their operation costs onto the shoulders of innocent families and to reap a profit. 

The state prison kickback rate varies, with Texas accepting a 40% commission rate for phone calls and charging up to $6.45 for a 15-minute call. That same phone call provided by the same company in Maryland yields a 60% commission rate and costs a family member $17.30.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency that regulates phone companies has rules that prevent monopolies in order to favor competition.  These rules, however, do not extend to the prison phone system resulting in monopoly rates for inmates.  This lack of oversight allows prisons to establish contracts with phone companies that include fees in the forms of kickbacks to the prison.  These kickbacks function as contractual bribes in exchange for a company’s monopoly over a prisons communication system with the outside world.  This has created a situation in which prisons select the contract with the highest costs, to add a greater profit to their coffers.

The cycle becomes more abhorrent as the U.S. government has increasingly turned to private industries to run its prisons. The prison phone system within the United States is a lucrative business estimated to gross $362 million per year. 42% of that cost or 152 million are kickbacks. Many states are quick to accept monies that fill gaps within their own budgets. To put it plainly, the public service of the rehabilitation of inmates has been turned into a multi-million dollar industry, at the cost of innocent families of inmates. 

While rates within the Inmate Telephone System used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons remain fairly low at $.06 per minute for local calls, and $.23 for long distance debit calls, long distance collect calls remain steep with $2.45 initial cost and $.40 per additional minute. Long distance calls are the most lucrative because many prisoners are transferred to out of state to facilities that have more room or run at a lower cost. The majority of prisoners don’t readily have access to funds from which they can cover the costs of the call deferring them to the collect call system, leaving it up to the recipient pay for the charges. Charges which include various “fees” such as the ones charged by private companies like Securus, which include a $2.99 “bill statement fee” and $6.95 “processing fee” for payments made online or, ironically, by phone.

In light of these disturbing trends, some states have made reforms and refused to participate in these abuses. Many states such as New York, New Mexico and Alaska have discontinued the practice of accepting kickbacks to some degree. In California for example, before SB. 81 was passed, long distance calls were as high as $3.95 plus 89 cents per minute. After the passage of reform, calls are now significantly less at $1.52 plus 34 cents per minute. Lawmakers such as U.S. Rep Bobby Rush has proposed federal legislation in the form of H.R. 555, The Family Connection Protection Act of 2007 during the past two sessions that would provide relief for the families of inmates. The courts have also driven reform in states such as Florida, Washington and Louisiana, where companies were forced to repay millions to families of inmates’ for overcharges.

Despite these state-by-state reforms, it is time for the FCC to provide relief for families and reform the system by addressing a petition advocates have been pushing for since 2003.  The first step in this process is to become informed, Public Knowledge hopes that people will join our upcoming efforts to pressure the U.S. government to intervene and stop prisons from profiting off the hardships of the families of prisoners. 

 

Is the Obama FCC Really Pushing Bush's Failed Media Policies?

By Craig Aaron of Free Press/ Reposted from Huffington Post 

As a senator, Barack Obama fought to prevent greater media consolidation.

In 2007, he opposed a vote by the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission to lift the ban on allowing one company to own a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market.

"We must ensure that we have an open media market that represents all of the voices in our diverse nation and allows them to be heard," the future president said before the FCC's vote.

Why then is the Obama FCC reportedly pushing for nearly the same rule changes the Republicans failed to carry out in the Bush years? And why -- when those efforts to further weaken media ownership limits were rejected by the public, the courts and congressional leaders -- would the FCC expect a different response this time? Just because a Democrat is now in charge?

To his credit, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has demonstrated a newfound willingness to stand up to the biggest corporations. He deserves accolades for showing why the AT&T/T-Mobile merger is not in the public interest. But that just makes his rumored moves on the traditional media front all the more baffling.

99% Against Big Media

So far Genachowski has spent little time in office focusing on media ownership. But there are few media policy issues that have galvanized as much widespread public opposition as runaway media consolidation. Millions of people have spoken out over the past decade against allowing big media corporations to swallow up more local media outlets. They understand the harm caused when companies like News Corp., Tribune and Sinclair place profits over investing in newsrooms and the information needs of the audiences they serve.

When the FCC tried to gut its ownership rules in 2003 and again in 2007, the public was outraged. They filled hearings to the rafters, and 99 percent of the public comments received by the agency opposed greater media concentration.

The courts have been no more welcoming of the FCC's attempts to do big media's bidding. In 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the rules pushed through by then-Chairman Michael Powell. And just last summer, the same court threw out ex-Chair Kevin Martin's loophole-ridden rules that undermined the longstanding ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. The court castigated the FCC for failing to listen to public input.

Obama wasn't alone in his opposition to greater media concentration. He was joined by, among others, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. And in 2008, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to overturn the FCC's weakened cross-ownership rule.

Just last year, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Olympia Snowe, joined by then-Sen. Byron Dorgan, sent a letter reminding the FCC "of the Senate's interest in public interest limits for media ownership and that the current Commission is under no obligation to follow the footsteps of its predecessors" who sought to get rid of the ownership rules.

The Truth About Media Consolidation

Of course, big media companies have not given up pressuring the FCC and Congress to twist the rules to their liking. They claim that the Internet has changed everything and they need more consolidation to compete.

In truth, incumbent media dominate online as well. An FCC-commissioned study released earlier this year found that "online local news markets resemble downsized versions of traditional media news markets, with the same news stories produced by the same newspapers and television stations."

There's no doubt that the Internet has disrupted the sky-high monopoly profits newspapers once enjoyed, though most are still profitable. Many media companies are struggling financially largely due to self-inflicted wounds: They got too big too fast and now aren't able to service all the debt they took on trying to please insatiable Wall Street investors.

If consolidation has been bad for business, it has been far worse for journalism. Tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs in recent years, and many foreign and statehouse bureaus have been shuttered. More consolidation will mean even fewer reporters on the beat finding out what's happening in local communities.

The FCC Fails to Deal with Diversity

Media consolidation has also hindered the ability of people of color and women to become broadcast station owners. People of color own just 3 percent of all full-power TV stations and 7 percent of radio stations; women own just 6 percent of all broadcast outlets.

Even though the recent federal court ruling rejecting the FCC's rules took the agency to task for failing to address minority and female ownership, the Obama FCC appears determined to pursue the same failed policies as its predecessors.

What happened to the Obama who, as a candidate, called out the FCC for promoting "the concept of consolidation over diversity" and promised to "encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media"?

Last month, a coalition of civil rights groups wrote a letter to the FCC lamenting that the agency "has no meaningful policies to address racial and gender inequities in media ownership and has ignored the impact of its media ownership rules on those inequities."

"As media consolidation grows, people of color and women become less significant players in the media ecosystem," concluded the groups, which included the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, NOW and the NAACP. "The Commission must acknowledge that fact and take action to remedy it."

Fifty more media, women's and social justice organizations (including Free Press) weighed in today with another letter to the agency, warning, "the continued absence of FCC action in the face of deep and intractable ownership disparities is unacceptable."

The signers asked the FCC to evaluate the impact of its media ownership rules on ownership opportunities for women and people of color; take proactive measures to promote ownership of broadcast stations by under-represented groups; and guard against further erosion of media ownership among these groups by maintaining existing media ownership limits.

Now Is the Time to Make Your Voice Heard

On Thursday night, FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps will be in Atlanta for a hearing on media ownership issues at Georgia Tech. This event will be a chance to remind the agency how destructive media consolidation is for local communities.

But even if you're not in Atlanta, you can still tell the FCC what you think. If this talk of going back to Bush's ownership rules is just a trial balloon, now is the time to pop it.

What we need isn't more disastrous media consolidation. We need media that truly represent, as Barack Obama himself said not long ago, "all of the voices in our diverse nation."

We won't get there if we fall back on the failed policies of the past.


Co-authored with Joseph Torres.

 
 

Follow Craig Aaron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/notaaroncraig      

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