April 26, 2012
Dear NOW Leader:
NOW Foundation is working in coalition with the NAACP, Free Press and other allies in the civil rights and media reform communities to stop practices in the telecommunications industry that disproportionately affect women, people of color and low-income families.
Are you interested in participating in this project on a local level? Several of our coalition partners have chapters across the country like NOW does, and we want to identify areas where we have the potential to link our respective grassroots. If you are interested in learning more, just reply to this email, and NOW Foundation Communications Director Lisa Bennett will follow up with you.
Here's a quick summary of the project's key issues:
- Prison Phone Rates: Did you know that 75 percent of incarcerated women have a child under 18 years of age? Or that women, on average, are imprisoned 160 miles away from home? Women, low-income people and people of color are all unduly burdened by steep prison phone rates.
Thanks to a bidding system that rewards prisons with inflated commission payments, prisoners are charged exorbitant rates in most states. This hampers prisoners' ability to assist in their defense and to stay connected with their families -- both of which are critical to a successful transition from incarceration back into the community.
In addition, excessive phone charges undermine the economic security of family members who shoulder the costs of these calls -- disproportionately mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends. Imagine a grandmother worried about the incarcerated grandson she helped raise. Or a child growing up with a mother or father in prison. Trying to preserve family bonds while a member is in prison is hard enough already, and exorbitant prison phone rates only make things that much harder. The practice has gone on long enough and needs to be stopped.
- Cell Phone Billing: Have you ever received a cell phone bill that was higher than it was supposed to be? Of course you have! Did you know in advance that you had gone over the limits of your plan or racked up roaming charges? Or maybe you looked at your bill and saw fees that seemed a little fishy.
Two common ways people end up with excessive cell phone bills are known as "bill shock" and "cramming." Bill shock is a result of providers doing a poor job informing consumers when they are about to exceed their regular charges. Cramming is a flat-out scam involving third parties attaching charges to your phone that you never signed up for.
Again, women, people of color and low-income people are most likely to feel the effects of phone bills that bust their budgets. And studies show that women and people of color use their phones more and rely on them more for internet connectivity. The phone companies are dragging their feet to fix these problems, and they need an extra push from some unlikely sources, like our coalition.
Please write back and tell us if you are interested in working on one or both of these issues at the state or chapter level. Once we have an action plan and tools for the grassroots, we'll contact your directly, so please be sure to tell us who is the best person to contact and at what phone number and email.
Thanks for all you do!
NOW Foundation Communications Director
P.S. In February, we posted an article on the Foundation website about this project. Read more »