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 telecommunications industry in profound 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 all communities have affordable access to the communications technologies that power our 21st century economy.
The Digital Telephone Transition
Phone companies are converting their networks from old copper-wire systems to new digital technology, and have successfully lobbied 26 states to pass laws that stop regulators like the California Public Utilities Commission from enforcing quality standards and consumer protections on telephone services that use this new technology. Telecommunications companies are fighting back against the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to enforce quality standards and consumer protections on digital phone service. Without such standards, telephone users could lose protections they have had for decades, including affordable service for rural areas, LifeLine service for low-income customers, and protection against billing abuses.
Losing these basic safeguards is particularly dangerous for low-income customers, and Greenlining is fighting at every level to save them. You can read Greenlining’s report on the digital telephone transition here.
The Open Internet
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. This simple idea, 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, the FCC implemented sweeping net neutrality rules. While those rules have survived one court challenge, telecommunications providers continue to seek the elimination of the rules in the courts and in Congress. Additionally, providers continue to exploit loopholes and creatively interpret rules to avoid complying with their net neutrality obligations. Without strong safeguards, we could face degraded phone service (as providers discriminate against phone traffic in favor of more profitable traffic), tiered service (where rich customers can pay for better quality phone service than poor customers), and “data caps” on the number of phone calls customers can make each month. Greenlining is participating in proceedings at the FCC 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 providers in 2014, and is actively working with the FCC to expand the national Lifeline program to include support for broadband. Additionally, we are working for new rules to bring Internet-based (VoIP) phone providers into the program and 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 vulnerable 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. In addition, we have entered into a partnership with Frontier Communications to ensure that its acquisition of Verizon results in a company which addresses the needs of communities of color.