FCC commissioners reveal details of their proposal to protect all families of incarcerated people
by Peter Wagner, October 1, 2015
For more than a decade, families have been calling on the Federal Communications Commission to provide relief from the exploitative prison and jail telephone industry that charges rates as high as $1/minute. We are excited to share that phone justice is now closer than ever.
Yesterday, FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn released a summary of their proposal for comprehensive regulation of the broken prison and jail telephone industry. The Federal Communications Commission will be voting on the proposal at their October 22 meeting.
The new proposal:
- Applies to all calls be they local, intra-state, or inter-state. (Previous regulations only applied to inter-state calls.)
- Lowers the maximum rate that can be charged to 11 cents a minute for state prisons, and 14 to 22 cents a minute for jails, depending on the size of the jail. (Most incarcerated people are in prisons and most people in jails are in the larger facilities that will have the lower rates.)
- Caps and bans the abusive hidden fees documented in our report Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry, that can easily double the price of a call. The proposed new fee caps are:
- Payment by phone or website: $3 (currently up to $10)
- Payment via live operator: $5.95 (currently up to $10)
- Paper bills: $2 (currently up to $3.49)
- Markups and hidden fees embedded within WesternUnion and MoneyGram payments: $0 (currently up to $6.95)
- Markups and hidden profits on mandatory taxes and regulatory fees: $0 (We’ve seen these markups and hidden profits on “mandatory” taxes be 25% of the cost of the call)
- All other ancillary fees: $0. (There are many of these charges. Some of the most egregious ones are $10 fees for refunds, $2.50/month for “network infrastructure” and a 4% charge for “validation”.)
The proposal also:
- Discourages but does not directly ban commissions (kickbacks of vendor profits to the correctional facilities).
- Bans flat-rate calling. (Currently some vendors insist on charging a fixed-price for calls of any length, so that a person who only needs a 1 minute conversation must still pay for a 15 minute call.)
- Takes effect very quickly; the new regulations will likely be effective by early 2016. (90 days after they are published in the Federal Register.)
- Seeks further comment on the video visitation industry and other advanced communications services.
Now that the FCC is finally prioritizing the families of incarcerated people, we need to keep the pressure on and make sure their final order reflects the strong protections provided in this proposal. No family should have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping in touch.