Peter Wagner, Executive Director
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FCC prison phone regulation ruling published in Federal Register, to take effect Feb 11.

by Peter Wagner, November 13, 2013  

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) historic order reining in the exploitative prison and jail telephone industry has finally been published in the Federal Register, making it official. (The footnoted version of the order is still available on the FCC’s website.) Starting February 11, a single call home from prison or jail will no longer cost a family as much as $17 and new rules will improve how this market operates. The FCC Commissioners are also requesting public comments, due December 13, on a series of questions related to expanding the scope and operation of their order.

Here’s a breakdown of the details of the FCC’s order:

  • Establishes that inter-state (between states) rates must be reasonable and sets a maximum rate cap of 21 cents per minute for prepaid and debit calls, and 25 cents for collect calls.
  • Encourages prison telephone companies to set their inter-state rates at 12 and 14 cents per minute. The FCC decided that any company that sets all of its rate at or below that level will not have to justify the reasonableness of their rates.
  • Requires the telephone companies to file annual reports that disclose and justify their rates and fees. Collecting this information will bring the contract negotiation process between companies and correctional facilities into the light, making it possible for the FCC to evaluate the charges. (This provision will take effect after the Office of Management and Budget gives its approval.)
  • Requires that phone companies base the fees charged for deposits, refunds, etc. on the actual cost of providing the service. This prohibits companies from using fee collection as an additional, hidden, source of profit. (Currently some companies charge as much as $11.10 to accept a $25 credit card deposit, and as much as $5 to refund money after people are released.)
  • Prohibits prison telephone companies from using the cost of site commission payments to justify charging high rates and expensive fees to the consumer. FCC declined the request to ban the commissions outright, instead requiring that any commissions be paid out of reasonable profits. This leaves the correctional facilities with some income, but removes the correctional facilities and the companies’ perverse financial incentive to maximize consumers’ bills.
  • Prohibits companies from charging higher rates to people who need assistive hearing or speech services.

The FCC also published a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek input on imposing further regulations. Commissioners’ questions include:

  • Whether the FCC should also regulate the burgeoning market for video, email and voicemail services that may grow even more common than phone systems in the near future.
  • Whether and at what level the FCC should cap the rates that companies can charge for in-state calls.
  • Whether and at what level the FCC should cap the rates that companies can charge for international calls.
  • How the FCC can best ensure that fees charged for prison and jail telephone service be “just, reasonable and cost-based”.
  • How the FCC can best enforce its already-existing rules prohibiting companies from improperly blocking calls to cell phones or for other reasons.
  • Whether the FCC should to adopt specific regulations concerning call quality.
  • Any further action to protect the communication between deaf and hard of hearing people and incarcerated people.

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. In 2003, a federal judge decided that the case fell under the jurisdiction of the FCC, where it sat for years. This summer’s ruling, today published in the Federal Register, marks the first definitive action from the FCC to control the broken prison and jail telephone industry.

Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we were thrilled to see that FCC order refers to our reports and written submissions several times, starting right in the second footnote’s cite to our submission, with SumOfUs, of 36,690 public comments in support of regulation.

We’re honored to be a part of the strong, diverse and sustained campaign that is breaking down the barriers that prevent families from remaining connected with incarcerated loved ones. No longer will private telephone companies be able to collude with the correctional facilities to charge the poorest families in the nation unconscionable amounts of money just to stay in touch. We look forward to keeping up this great momentum to work with our colleagues towards full and comprehensive regulation of the prison phone industry!

18 Responses

  1. New FCC Rulings...anyone seen this? Is it real? says, 5 hours, 34 minutes after publication:

    [...] this real? FCC prison phone regulation ruling published in Federal Register, to take effect Feb 11. | Prison Po… Because it seems to be very good news for a lot of [...]

  2. Jennifer Martinez says, 6 hours, 44 minutes after publication:

    I am very happy to hear that this is finally going into effect. I’m not sure why nothing was done about in-state rates at the same time. It is $5.63 for a 20 minute call in Texas. I can get a cell phone with unlimited minutes for $40 but that same amount of money only gets me 6 calls a month via Securus. Many more families are negatively affected by the high in-state rates than the intra-state ones and I hope there is soon relief for those of us in the same state as our incarcerated loved ones.

    1. Leah Sakala says, 17 hours, 37 minutes after publication:

      Hi Jennifer,

      We absolutely agree that in-state rates must be regulated as well. The FCC has opened up a new comment period to get public input on regulating in-state rates: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=12-375 The Commission needs to hear from us that this is a critical next step.

      -Leah

  3. Walter Burnette says, 18 hours, 53 minutes after publication:

    This law reigning in the telephone companies and corrections is long, long over due. Both, corrections and the phone companies got away with robbing families and friends of those incarcerated. Still law and penalties are needed to curb said action.

  4. Paul Sauerbier CM says, 1 day, 19 hours after publication:

    The worst thing about this is that the FCC sat on it for years. The saying about “it’s not only the inmate that does the time” has been proved true by the extortion of relatives and friends when it comes to phone contact. I happen to live in Texas which only provided phone contact recently compared to other states. Thank you to all who have provide pressure to make affordable phone contact available to inmates.

  5. Shannon Price says, 2 days, 21 hours after publication:

    Thankyou for what is getting done. I want to make sure I understand,
    I currently use a phone company and buy time for my loved one to call
    1. That company is not suppose to charge the extra charge anymore?
    2. He cant call out of state to call his dad because of the cost, the out of state calls
    will go down 0.21 a minute?
    3. to call me its .12 to .14 cents now ?
    4. What about connection charge to be connected to our phones?
    he has told me that it takes money from a prepaid call to even connect to me
    This goes into effect for all states? He is currently in Nevada

    1. Peter Wagner says, 3 days, 1 hour after publication:

      Hi Shannon,

      For out-of-state calls, the calls can’t be higher than 21 cents a minute. The FCC didn’t ban connection charges, but if they exist, the total cost of a 15 minute call, including the connection charge, has to no higher than 21 cents a minute. As you know, the connection charges tend to be expensive, so that’s a big savings right there.

      Yes, this goes into effect for all states, but only for out-of-state calls. In-state calls are what the FCC wants to look at next. -peter

  6. FCC denies phone companies’ pleas to delay fair rates | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 week, 5 days after publication:

    [...] the FCC’s new regulations lowering the price of calls home from prison even hit the Federal Register, the two largest prison phone companies (Securus and GTL) filed petitions to delay implementation [...]

  7. 2013 has been our best year yet! Can you support us for 2014? | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 week, 6 days after publication:

    [...] In Aaugust, after ten years of inaction, the Federal Communications Commission finally voted to regulate the industry so that families will no longer have to pay $1/minute to stay in touch with [...]

  8. 23,000+ SumOfUs members call on FCC to regulate instate prison phone charges | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 month after publication:

    [...] the FCC ruled in August to regulate the most expensive inter-state phone charges, the Commissioners asked for comments on [...]

  9. FCC should close video loophole in prison phone regulation | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 month, 1 week after publication:

    [...] the Federal Communications Commission approved its first regulation of the prison phone industry in August, the Commissioners put out a call for additional information on the rise of alternate [...]

  10. New York Times editorial cites PPI research on correctional video communication industry | Prison Policy Initiative says, 2 months after publication:

    [...] York Times issued a strong editorial praising the Federal Communications Commission for acting to regulate inter-state prison phone call charges, and [...]

  11. Annette Russ says, 2 months, 4 weeks after publication:

    Hooray! The FCC denied securus’s appeal for a stay and the order takes effect tomorrow, feb 11th. In addition, the FCC chairman has vowed to continue to fight them in court. One victory for Main Street.

  12. Kirama says, 3 months after publication:

    so, does this stop the practice of GTL charging a 22% fee for depositing money to make phone calls? Any idea how long it will take to get some action on in state calls?

    1. Peter Wagner says, 3 months after publication:

      Unfortunately, Securus and Global Tel*Link convinced a federal court to stay the requirement that the fees be reasonable. So that won’t go into effect for until Spring at the earliest.

      The FCC closed a comment period about in-state regulation in January, but there is no way to know how long action on in-state rates will take at the federal level. (Some states are considering changes. What state are you in?)

  13. HuffPo: FCC Bests Prison Telephone Industry Just in Time for Valentine’s Day | Prison Policy Initiative says, 3 months after publication:

    [...] celebrate the FCC’s inter-state prison phone call charge regulation going into effect on Tuesday (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), Peter and I wrote a new [...]

  14. randal thom says, 3 months after publication:

    something also needs to be investigated, with securious if you get down to 59 seconds on a pre paid call card with them, and you hang up at that time, they take those seconds and empty the card.. can you imagine how many millions have been stolen by this practice, especially when an inmate is paying 50 cents a minute, please consider taking a class action suit on this issue.. thank you..

    1. Peter Wagner says, 3 months after publication:

      Does Securus normally bill by the second? ie., if you have 5 minutes 10 seconds left on the card, and you talk for 15 seconds, you would have 4 minutes 55 seconds?

      Do they give you an account statement that we could look at?