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FCC should close video loophole in prison phone regulation

by Leah Sakala, December 23, 2013

When 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 forms of electronic communication in prisons and jails.

We just submitted a comment to the FCC detailing some of our disturbing findings about the burgeoning prison and jail video communications market, and urging the FCC to keep tabs on non-phone forms of communication in future rulings.

Here’s a summary of what we found (but check out the whole submission for examples and footnotes):

  1. Some jails are using video visitation, which is often fee-based, to replace, rather than supplement, free in person visits.
  2. Like the prison and jail phone industry, the video communication industry is rife with technical malfunctions and usability issues that need to be addressed.
  3. In many cases, video communication customers are subject to hefty fees and high rates, and a portion of the proceeds goes to site commissions. (Sound familiar?)
  4. FCC failure to regulate prison and jail video communication charges will leave this industry with a ready method to instantly circumvent FCC phone charge regulation simply by replacing facilities’ current telephones with video phones and labeling the verbal communications that take place as “video calls”. This would, of course, defeat the FCC’s mission to relieve families from having to pay astronomical phone bills.

We also noted that more and more correctional facilities are adopting email service, which has the similar potential to replace other critical forms of communication and carries similar risks of financial commission-fueled consumer abuse.

As our submission demonstrates, video visitation is here to stay. Increasing the number of ways that families can stay in touch is a good thing. But allowing companies to exploit families and undercut the FCC’s efforts to bring fairiness to this industry is not.

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