Report: Shift to digital phones could hurt communities of color
Stephon Johnson | 12/12/2013, 4:50 p.m.
If information is the new currency, communities of color could go broke.
A new report by the Greenlining Institute, titled “DISCONNECTED: What the Phone System’s Digital Transition Will Mean for Consumers,” alleges that the immediate shift to digital phone networks could leave certain communities without basic standards like affordable services and access to 911 for emergencies.
The Greenlining Institute is a Berkeley, Calif.-based research and advocacy nonprofit with a focus on racial justice.
According to the report’s findings, because major telephone providers plan to upgrade the technology they use in their telephone networks, including switching to all-digital networks, the FCC needs to enforce basic standards during the transition to make sure phone service is available and affordable.
“People in rural areas could lose service, and low-income consumers might not be able to get basic phone service they can afford,” reads the report.
But many major carriers argue that the Federal Communications Commission should reduce its ability to enforce the basic standards that the Greenlining Institute’s study advocates. They advocate the elimination of FCC and state oversight of all-digital networks based on the argument that they should be treated as information services and not telecommunications services.
The report points out that all of these findings combined would affect all telephone users but would hurt low-income consumers and communities of color the most because those groups are less likely to have home Internet service and spend more time on their phones.
This week, the FCC planned on looking at these issues during a meeting, when the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update.
“While analog televisions and digital televisions use different technologies, they are both televisions,” stated the report’s conclusion. “While gas and electric cars use different technologies, they are both cars. A call made on an analog telephone network and a call made on a digital telephone network may use different technologies, but both calls are telephone calls.”
The report called upon policymakers, industry and other stakeholders to design an analog-to-digital telephone transition that “protects, enhances and improves the universally available phone service that we have today.”
Paul Goodman, legal counsel for the Greenlining Institute and co-author of the report, said that all phones share the same purpose, no matter how they are being used.
“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 Goodman in a statement. “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,” concluded Goodman.