The good old days of the exploitative prison phone industry?

by Leah Sakala, August 9, 2013

The campaign for phone justice just posted a 2002 video of prison phone providers talking about the industry:

Talk about a blast from the past. The video is a perfect example of how much the industry has changed in the last decade. Here’s why:

  1. The video features representatives of Verizon and AT&T, public-facing companies you’ve actually heard of. Neither of these companies in the prison phone business anymore after investment banks took over the industry, and now Verizon publicly deplores the price-gouging in the current prison phone market.
  2. The video features leading prison phone companies actually engaging with the media. By contrast, coverage of today’s upcoming FCC vote on prison phone regulation has been rife with sentences such as: “American Securities, which owns Global Tel*Link, declined to comment.”
  3. The spokespeople in the video acknowledge that it’s not a fair industry to the families of incarcerated people: the corporate bottom line depends on prisons staying full and families footing the expensive phone bills. “Unfortunately, this is a growth industry,” says the Verizon representative at the start of the video, noting that prison expansion is expanding their customer base.

But now? The nation’s largest prison phone company, Global Tel*Link (which most people have probably never heard of), has been conspicuously silent. Not only are Global Tel*Link representatives not responsive to the public and to the media, but they’re also not talking to the Federal Communications Commission, refusing to participate in discussions about regulation or provide data the FCC is requesting.

Calls home from prisons and jails were outrageously expansive when the video was shot, and they’re outrageously expensive now. That alone is reason enough for the FCC to approve comprehensive regulation this morning. But the extreme price gouging combined with a shocking lack of transparency from prison phone corporations should leave no question in the Commissioners’ minds: It’s time to get this broken industry under control.

Tune in at 11AM EST to watch the historic vote and see what happens.

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