FCC takes historic stand to control the predatory prison and jail phone industry
by Leah Sakala, August 9, 2013
This afternoon the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a new set of regulations to control the exploitative prison and jail phone industry. Currently, prisons and jails grant exclusive contracts to telephone companies that charge families outrageous bills and kick back a hefty portion of the profit to the correctional facilities. But now, the FCC is finally stepping up to the plate to protect families from having to choose between staying in touch and paying the bills.
While the official text for the order and notice won’t be available until next week, today the FCC announced that the regulation will mandate:
- That “all interstate inmate calling rates, including ancillary charges, be based on the cost of providing the inmate calling service.”
- Interstate rate caps of $0.21/minute for debit and pre-paid calls and $0.25/minute for collect calls, and “safe-harbor” rates of $0.12/minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.14 cents/minute for collect calls. The rates must also include the costs of security features and technology.
- The expense of kickbacks back to prisons and jails must not be factored into interstate rates or charges
- People who need assistive hearing or speech services not be charged higher rates
- A call for “mandatory data collection, annual certification requirement, and enforcement provisions to ensure compliance with this Order”
The FCC also opened a new comment period to gather information on two topics:
- Regulating in-state rates
- Encouraging competition to bring down rates
Advocates for fair phone rates have been calling for regulation for more than a decade, beginning with a 2000 class action lawsuit brought against the Corrections Corporation of America and several prison phone companies. A federal judge decided that the case fell under the jurisdiction of the FCC, where it sat for years. Today’s ruling marks the first definitive action from the FCC to control the broken prison and jail telephone industry.
This victory was the result of a strong and sustained campaign, and we are proud to be celebrating with our movement partners. Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis next week when the details are available!