Archived: New Report: Shift to Digital Phone Networks Could Hurt Communities of Color

New Report: Shift to Digital Phone Networks Could Hurt Communities of Color

Affordability, Reliability, 9-1-1 Access at Risk; FCC to Address Crucial Decisions

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director,510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)


BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — The accelerating shift to digital telephone networks could put communities of color at risk by endingbasic standards like affordable service and 9-1-1 access, The Greenlining Institute argues in a new report being released Dec. 10.

“Everything from 9-1-1 emergency services to consumers’ very ability to access reliable, affordable phone service is potentially in danger if the FCC doesn’t enforce basic standards as the transition to a digital phone network moves forward,” said Greenlining Institute Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director Stephanie Chen. Chen noted that several factors could make communities of color particularly vulnerable.

The Federal Communications Commission will look at these issues at its Dec. 12 meeting, at which the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update.

Journalists can now preview the report, DISCONNECTED: What the Phone System’s Digital Transition Will Mean for Consumers. Key findings include:

Major telephone providers plan to upgrade the technology they use in their telephone networks, switching to all-digital networks.

If the FCC doesn’t enforce basic standards as this transition proceeds, programs making sure phone service is available and affordable would be in danger. People in rural areas could lose service, and low-income consumers might not be able to get basic phone service they can afford.

Access to 9-1-1 emergency services would also be in danger, along with reverse 9-1-1, which provides notification in case of natural disaster or other emergency.

Despite these consequences for consumers, major carriers argue that the Federal Communications Commission should reduce its ability to enforce these basic standards. They advocate for the elimination of FCC and state oversight of all-digital networks, arguing that they should be treated as information services, not telecommunications services.

These and other potential impacts would affect all telephone users, but would be felt most severely by low-income consumers and communities of color, who are less likely to have home Internet service and depend more on their phones. Low-income consumers are more likely to have only one form of telephone service, making reliable service an absolute necessity.

“A century ago, America realized that telephone service isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and built a careful system of consumer safeguards into our phone network,” said report co-author Paul Goodman, Greenlining Institute legal counsel. “All of those safeguards could be at risk if the FCC fails to recognize that for consumers, a phone call is a phone call, regardless of what technology carries the signal from point A to point B. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler seemed to acknowledge this recently when he said that ‘technology doesn’t change the basic relationship between networks and those that use them,’ and now that understanding must be backed up with action.”

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