Community Leaders Speak Out on Affordable Phone Service
Community leaders from the Inland Empire, Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the Central Valley are speaking out on utility issues and gaining the skills they need to assist consumers through TURN’s PolicyVoice Organizing Project. Recent trainings in Oakland and San Francisco covered not only consumer assistance but also activism and empowerment.
Our PolicyVoice partners put their new skills to work immediately, speaking out forcefully in support of affordable phone service at a CPUC meeting on September 13. They urged adoption of a proposal by Commissioner Mike Florio to keep current protections for consumers who want stand-alone, basic phone service intact.
Not surprisingly, phone companies in California are giving their support to a competing proposal by notoriously anti-consumer CPUC President Peevey that would allow them access to subsidies originally designed to support universal access without holding them to current service obligations.
Peevey’s proposal re-defines basic service, a cornerstone of landline phone service, to include newer services, including wireless voice-over-Internet protocol, or any other future technology, but does not extend many current consumer protections.
TURN’s view is that if the Commission wants a “technology neutral” approach, it should hold all phone companies to the same standards by extending consumer rights rather than eliminating them. But AT&T, Verizon and other phone companies, with a long-standing agenda of deregulation, want carte blanche with no accountability.
Commissioner Florio’s proposal is most consistent with California’s long-standing commitment to universal service, requiring that basic service be offered as a stand-alone option.
While smart, expensive phones may be ubiquitous in Silicon Valley or Hollywood, Janice Mathurin of the West Fresno Family Resource Center said the low-income consumers her agency serves need the basics, not fancy phones, apps or packages. “Don’t force consumers to purchase bundled service they don’t need or can’t afford,” she told the Commission.
Reverend LB Tatum of COPE urged the CPUC to approve the Florio alternate, and extend protections to new technologies rather than allow the phone companies to cut back on their offerings and obligations. “We believe regardless of technology, ratepayers deserve high-quality affordable phone service, “ he said. The CPUC has not yet ruled on the issue.
PolicyVoice is funded by the California Consumer Protection Foundation, the California Endowment and the Media Democracy Fund. Click here to learn more.