LA townhallLast Thursday, April 12th, media justice advocates packed the conference room at the West Angeles Community Development Corporation in Los Angeles, CA to speak before Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, Public Utilities Commission, and testify on a range of communication rights issues. The Center for Media Justice partnered with The Utility Reform Network on this public townhall by activating our local members of the Media Action Grassroots Network. Testimony at the townhall focused primarily on issues related to maintaining telephone subsidies for low-income communities through the Lifeline program and eliminating the predatory practices of prepaid calling card companies.

Our MAG-Net anchor organization for the Los Angeles chapter, Institute of Popular Education in Southern California (IDEPSCA), was present and worked with CMJ to send out a joint bilingual outreach email to our LA contacts.  IDEPSCA works with day laborers and domestic workers that depend on prepaid calling cards to stay connected with loved ones abroad and across the country.

Pedro Joel Espinosa, Mobile Voices Organizer at IDEPSCA, said this in his testimony: “Most day laborers from IDEPSCA’s Day Labor Centers don’t know where to go to file a complaint regarding unfair practices by pre paid phone card companies. They tell us that they are fed up with being charged with fees they don’t understand and not getting the minutes they paid for. We ask the CPUC to provide more education and consumer protection specifically complaint resolution in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles.”

Edyael Casaperalta of the Center for Rural Strategies (MAGNet member) also provided testimony emphasizing the importance of communications in rural communities.

“As rural Internet and broadband advocates, we know the importance of having access to all forms of communication. Communication is a fundamental human right. Lack of basic communication services isolates people and denies them the right to communicate. Without access to basic telephone and broadband service, rural people are further isolated from economic and civic participation, and disconnected from the safety provided by our nation’s emergency 911-service network. Furthermore, without a state agency protecting the rights of consumers, rural people will be even more vulnerable to the breach of their right to communicate.”

The fight for stronger protections of our basic communication rights could not have come at a more critical time as the California legislature is currently considering a bill that would stop the Public Utilities Commission from regulating internet service providers. With the internet becoming a basic necessity in our ability to navigate our everyday lives, this bill, SB 1161, would leave our communities without any consumer protections and in the hands of corporations.

“On its face, SB 1161 calls for wholesale deregulation of California’s telecommunications systems,” says Alex Nogales, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.  “If passed and signed into law, SB 1161 will have a dramatic and devastating impact on consumers in California – particularly for low-wealth individuals and families that rely on the California Public Utilities Commission to stay connected. Passage of this bill would make it impossible for the state to administer the Lifeline program – a program that many low-wealth consumers rely on and one that NHMC has worked to improve for many years.”

The voices of many were heard loud and clear last Thursday, and the message was that we deserve to have our communications needs protected, whether that’s through a computer, cell phone or landline. Today it’s your turn to act. Our partner, TURN has set up an online action page so you can stand up and fight against this bill! To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King Jr. a threat to our communication rights somewhere is a threat to our communications rights everywhere!


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