Posts by Clarissa Ramon

A Reason to Celebrate: FCC Examines Future of the Phone Network

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Today is a step forward for the 303 million people residing the in U.S. who depend on some kind of phone service for their personal, business, and emergency communications. This morning the Federal Communication Commission voted to move forward on two proposals that examine the future of the phone network and 911 emergency services. This vote builds on the FCC’s bipartisan, unanimous consensus around core network values that include public safety, universal access, competition, and consumer protection.

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Will the FCC Create an Internet for the 1%?

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This week, the Federal Communications Commission released information about new draft rules for an open internet. This followed the U.S. Court of Appeals decision which struck down the legal path used to implement the original Open Internet rules, but upheld the FCC’s authority to do so under section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, or via reclassification of broadband as a “Title II” service.

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Two Court Decisions and What They Mean for Communities of Color

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This week, the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals ruled in two separate decisions that impact how communities of color communicate. The first decision affects what companies can charge individuals to stay connected with loved ones in prison. The second determined whether or not the internet will remain a neutral and open platform.


Last year, after over a decade of advocacy by prison reform advocates, and including more recent involvement by grassroots organizers, civil rights, and media and telecom public interest organizations, the Federal Communications Commission passed a long over-due petition that tackled the practice of exorbitant prison phone rates.  Before the FCC stepped in, these rates generated as much as $15 for a single 15-minute call.

Earlier this week the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals ordered a stay on these rules. While their decision upheld what public interest advocates consider the most important part – mandating that prison phone providers charge no more than .25 per minute for debit calls, and .21 per minute for collect calls – other provisions intended to protect families and loved ones of prisoners are stayed.

The provisions that were stayed include mandating that services provided by prison phone companies be cost based, and the “safe harbor” rates of .12 and .14 per minute. Provisions that could extend further relief to the families of the almost 2.3 million individuals behind bars today. As it stands now, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by incarceration in the U.S. 1 in every 3 African American males, and 1 out of every 6 Latinos will likely experience incarceration during their lifetime, with the burden of paying for the high costs of calls falling on their families.

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Public Knowledge and Center For Media Justice Release “What’s the Hang Up” Toolkit

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As the nations largest carriers pioneer a network upgrade, Public Knowledge and the Center of Media Justice released a toolkit designed to educate Americans about the IP transition’s potential impact on our everyday lives.


While this transition has the potential to lead to a more efficient communications infrastructure, there are still lots of decisions about how the values that made the old system great will apply to the new. 

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Let’s Keep AT&T from Exterminating Cricket

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Public Knowledge asks the FCC to deny AT&T's acquisition of Leap Wireless to ensure continued access to a low cost competitor.


Joined by Consumer Action and the Writers Guild, West, Public Knowledge has asked the FCC to deny AT&T's acquisition of Leap Wireless, most commonly known to the public by its brand, Cricket. Thanks to its value-oriented plans, Cricket is often the wireless carrier of choice for consumers who are traditionally left out of the larger wireless carrier markets. We've taken this step to ensure low-income, minority and immigrant communities have continued access to a low cost competitor. AT&T's acquisition of Leap would also limit available spectrum for smaller, rural, regional, and low-cost competitors and leave the Internet economy vulnerable to harmful business practices.

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After 10 Years, the FCC Upholds Just and Reasonable Action on Prison Phones

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to enact a framework that mandates just and reasonable telephone rates for the friends, family and counsel of inmates in state prisons and detention centers.


Today, the Federal Communications Commission approved a framework that mandates just and reasonable telephone rates for the friends, family and counsel of inmates in state prisons and detention centers. The order provides immediate financial relief to the households of the 2.7 million children with a parent behind bars who struggled with the cost of communicating with them. Public Knowledge commends FCC leadership for its action and congratulates the many advocates both in and outside the beltway for their dedicated efforts.

This long awaited action was facilitated through the outstanding and tireless commitment of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and staff, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice as well as a wide coalition of civil rights, public interest and criminal justice reform organizations. Together these efforts ensure that the families and loved ones of inmates are no longer susceptible to the exorbitant rates and egregious fee practices of inmate call service providers. To emphasize, the FCC has done exactly what is in their authority according to the Communications Act, by ensuring that phone rates for a population of Americans remain just and reasonable.

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Why We Still Need A Lifeline: Ensuring Phone Access for Low- Income Families in the US

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As congressional leaders battle over the looming sequester, the need and expense of basic social service programs has been subject of national debate. On Capitol Hill, the costs and benefits of such services are described in terms of dollars and cents. The Universal Service Fund (USF) is no exception from scrutiny and it is the position of Public Knowledge that cuts to our communications service safety net, is a mistake that would harm millions of Americans.

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House of Cards: A TV Distribution Model for the Next Generation

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After succumbing to the social and internet buzz around Netflix’s new series House of Cards, I finally sat down to watch an episode. What followed was a five-episode marathon that convinced me Netflix has won this round of the cable vs. internet content distribution battle. After struggling to maintain subscribers due to lack of new content (attributed largely in part to costs set by the cable industry), Netflix took a gamble based on the habits of the next generation of viewers. And the viewers won. 

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Internet Freedom Hearing Includes Rare Moment of Congressional Consensus

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In today’s political climate, it is rare to hear a unified voice from Congress, especially one pertaining to regulation. In today’s House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology’s hearing on “Fighting for Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond” one such voice was heard. The overall consensus from member participants was a clear demand to keep the Internet open and free. Held jointly with the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. The hearing focused on last December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications convened by the ITU in Dubai.  

 

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Families of Prisoners One Step Closer to Reasonable Rates

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Today, the FCC announced it will be releasing the Wright petition, which addresses the high cost of prison phone calls, for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This news marks the reopening of a discussion that has remained stagnant within the agency for almost a decade. During the coming months, the FCC will be collecting and reviewing comments from a wide array of stakeholders in an effort to recognize public input fairly. It is important that stakeholders continue the pressure preceding the announcement and use the coming months as an opportunity to have their voices heard. Successful actions by partner organizations have led hundreds of letters to be submitted to the FCC from family members of inmates and inmates from across the country, describing the hardships that result from the high cost of phone calls. These stories are important contributions to the docket, and grant the commission entrance into a world

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FCC Takes a Step in the “Wright” Direction

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Attendees at a FCC rally supporting prison phone rate reform hosted by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice received good news from fellow attendee Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Clyburn announced long awaited FCC action on the Wright petition by Chairman Genachowski which was circulated for further notice of proposed rule-making to fellow commissioners. This most recent victory was the result of many years of work and activism by multiple stakeholders from around the country who have been calling for relief from exorbitant prison phone costs that harm families of incarcerated individuals.

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FCC Takes a Step in the Wright Direction

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Yesterday, November 15th 2012, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice hosted a rally at the FCC to show support for Wright petition. Among the attendees was FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who announced long awaited action by Chairman Genachowski, who circulated further notice of proposed rulemaking for a vote to his fellow commissioners. The announcement was a culmination of over a decade, of work and activism by multiple stakeholders from around the country who have called for relief from exorbitant prison phone costs that hurt families of incarcerated individuals.

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House Representatives Ask Julius for Action on Prison Phones

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Today, September 12th 2012, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) sent a joint letter to Chairman Genachowski asking for immediate action on prison phone rate reform. The letter highlighted the lack of movement on the issue, despite the long pending status of the Wright petition at the FCC and legislation introduced by Rep. Rush last Congress. Both would provide relief for families and friends of prisoners who are charged high costs for phone calls. The letter joins recent actions by a civil rights and public interest coalition, grassroots activists and families of prisoners asking the FCC for relief from exorbitant interstate phone rates.

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Where the Party Platforms Stand on Internet Issues

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With less than 10 weeks to go before the election, Republicans and Democrats released party platforms outlining their visions for the future. Below is a comparison on where the parties stand on broadband adoption, net neutrality rules, spectrum auctions, and intellectual property protections.

1. Internet Freedom-

D- “The Obama administration has led the world to recognize and defend Internet Freedom – the freedom of expression, assembly, and association online for people everywhere ­– through coalitions of countries and by empowering individuals with innovative technologies.”

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Jump Over the Gap and Stay Under the Cap

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A recent  survey of adults who use their cell phones to access the Internet found that 2 in 5 Latinos and half of African Americans- double the rate of Whites- conduct a majority or all of their web browsing via their cell phones. While smart phones enable communities to cross over the traditional digital divide and become Internet users, they are not perfect solutions. Data caps have the potential to restrict how and when Internet users go online. As data caps on mobile devices become standard practice, and unlimited data plans dissappear, the importance of carrier transparency about caps will increase.

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Detroit Gathering Brings Together Activists, Artists, Techies and Organizers

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This weekend, I attended the 14th annual Allied Media Conference hosted by the Allied Media Projects in Detroit Michigan. The conference brought together community organizers, media mobilizers, technologists, and social justice advocates from around the country to discuss the intersection of technology and media as a vehicle for social change.

Participants represented a wide variety of organizations and movements ranging from immigrant rights networks to prison reform efforts. As a representative of Public Knowledge, working with telecommunications policy at the federal level, it was interesting to see the application of that policy at the local community level.

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Prison Phone Reform Brings Together Left and Right

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In today’s polarized political climate, it is rare to see groups from traditionally opposite ends of the spectrum come together in support of an issue. However, when it comes to keeping families connected and their ability to maintain relationships, groups from both the left and right are meeting in the middle.

Earlier today (May 18), a coalition of civil rights groups, media reform advocates, and conservative leaders joined together on a letter to urge the FCC to act on a petition which addresses the high cost of prison phone calls for families. The coalition included civil rights groups such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Public Knowledge, Free Press and Center for Media Justice to name a few. Conservative signers included David Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union and Pat Nolan, president of the Justice Fellowship.

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The Price of Communicating From Behind Bars

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Staying connected with loved ones behind bars is an expense that many families struggle with today.  Aside from exorbitant phone rates charged by private companies who provide phone services to prisons, families are also charged excessive amounts for money transfers and Email.

If the correctional facility that a prisoner is sent to happens to be privately run, chances are the company in charge has figured out a way to turn a profit off any transactions between that prisoner and their loved ones. It is because of the high costs within those facilities that organizations advocate for regulation within the prison communication system in order provide relief for families. Policy makers need to ensure correctional facilities negotiate reasonable rates for all communication services provided by private companies.

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USTR Still Missing the Point

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Yesterday, I attended the Senate Finance Committee Hearing on the President’s 2012 Trade Agenda. United States Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk was the sole witness and testified on behalf of the Administration. The hearing was an opportunity for UTSR to soothe public concerns and address the recent scrutiny it’s received for the secretive negotiation process surrounding TPP negotiations. Instead the USTR failed to seriously address the lack of public input within negotiations.  

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Prison Phones: Making Millions by Draining Families

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It is cheaper to call Singapore at 13 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 wrung dry by expensive calls which include profitable “kickbacks” to the prisons themselves.

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PIPA/SOPA State of Play

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There have been several developments over the past weekend, including a statement from the Whitehouse that expressed reservations about any provisions that facilitate online censorship and threaten the very framework that allows the Internet to function as it does today. With the removal of the DNS provision of SOPA and the cancellation of SOPA’s hearing in the House Oversight Committee by Rep. Darrell Issa, the focus has shifted to the equally destructive Senate companion bill, the Protect IP Act.

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Playing With Numbers: Why SOPA Still Won’t Solve Internet Piracy

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During a recent congressional hearing on H.R. 3261 “Stop Online Piracy Act”, Representative Conyers stated, “25% of Internet traffic is copyright infringement.” This dramatic figure is meant to justify SOPA as the solution to ending online piracy. But before we take this figure at face value, much less decide if SOPA is the right solution, it’s important to know where this number came from.

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AT&T’s Million Dollar Letter

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A letter signed by 100 House Republicans was sent to President Obama yesterday urging him to support the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, a merger that the Department of Justice wants to block because of its anti-competitive nature and the resulting consequences for consumers. The letter, sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), is similar to the one released last week by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) signed by 14 House Democrats calling for President Obama to intervene and force the DOJ to settle its suit. 

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