Communications technology is rapidly expanding our ability to connect and share information. But the technological revolution that makes this new connectivity possible is changing the industry in ways that threaten vital consumer protections. These protections help everyone, and especially low-income individuals and families. Greenlining works on multiple fronts to make sure that communities of color have affordable access to the communications technologies that drive our 21st century economy.
CALIFORNIA’S NEW ROLE IN TECHNOLOGY
As a result of the 2016 presidential election, we can no longer rely on the federal government to have the public interest in mind when it crafts telecommunications policy. We expect that big carriers will successfully roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to enforce quality standards and consumer protections that have existed for decades, including affordable service for rural areas, LifeLine service for low-income customers, and protection against billing abuses. Losing these basic safeguards particularly endangers low-income customers. In addition to opposing rollbacks of federal protections, Greenlining will fight vigorously at the state level to ensure that California preserves those safeguards, protects consumers and holds providers accountable, even if the FCC does not.
THE OPEN INTERNET
The principle of net neutrality, which dates to the 19th century, says that information transmitted over communications networks should be handled impartially, without the company running the network being able to pick favorites – favorites that would likely be large corporations or wealthy individuals. Greenlining strongly supports this principle, which is essential to preserving the free Internet we know today. In 2015, Greenlining and its ally organizations successfully convinced the FCC to implement sweeping net neutrality rules. However, in early 2017, the FCC, under new leadership, announced its intention to eliminate those rules.
Without strong safeguards, consumers will likely face degraded phone and broadband service (as providers discriminate against some traffic in favor of more profitable traffic), tiered service (where rich customers can pay for better quality service than low-income customers), and “data caps” on the amount of data customers can use each month. Millions of low-income Americans and communities of color could be relegated to online slow lanes if we do not maintain the principle of net neutrality. Providers could discriminate against certain content, giving preferential treatment to their own content or, for example, to content from deep-pocketed Hollywood studios. Disturbingly, consumers will have no way to tell whether their provider is discriminating against content, and when confronted about such discrimination, providers will hide behind claims of “reasonable network management.” Greenlining is participating in proceedings at the FCC and advocating at the state level to ensure that everyone has access to an open, nondiscriminatory Internet.
UNIVERSAL SERVICE PROGRAMS
LifeLine provides subsidized phone service for low-income consumers and ensures that everyone in California has access to telephone service. Greenlining actively worked with the CPUC to expand California’s LifeLine program to wireless and Internet-based (VoIP) providers, and is pushing for the FCC to expand the national Lifeline program to include support for broadband. Additionally, we are working to let consumers without Social Security numbers sign up for LifeLine service. These improvements will open up LifeLine to thousands more people who need it.
COMPETITION AND CUSTOMER CHOICE
When telecommunications companies seek to merge, Greenlining stands up for the interests of communities of color and low income communities, opposing any mergers that will harm these too-often marginalized consumers. For example, we successfully opposed the proposed mergers between AT&T and T-Mobile and Comcast and Time Warner, which threatened to disproportionately harm communities of color. Additionally, Greenlining works to ensure that where reviewing agencies approve mergers, those approvals include strong conditions that expand network deployment to communities of color, guarantee that low-income households have access to affordable service, promote executive, workforce, and supplier diversity, and ensure that providers address the needs of communities of color.