Portion of FCC prison phone regulations put on hold; rate caps to go into effect 2/11

by Aleks Kajstura, January 14, 2014

Recently, prison phone companies took the FCC to court for the right to charge the families of incarcerated people exorbitant rates for talking to their loved ones in prison. (Securus Technologies v. FCC and United States of America (D.C. Cir. Docket No. 13-1280)). Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals granted a partial stay of the FCC’s new prison phone regulations, but allowed the new rate caps to take effect on February 11.

Communications Daily reports that the Court

kept in place the interim rate cap of 21 cents per minute for debit and prepaid calls, and 25 cents a minute for collect calls. It put on hold three other sections of the FCC’s rules: the requirement that rates and ancillary services be “cost-based”; low safe-harbor rates that presume charges are reasonable; and the annual reporting requirement.

The article quotes Peter Wagner’s analysis of the order:

It is important that the court left intact the most important and immediate of the FCC’s reforms… [b]ut I’m disappointed that the court stayed three sections of the FCC’s order, including the section that reined in the fees….Those fees can double the price of a call…. With new fairer rates, Global Tel*Link will make far more from deposit fees than from multiple 15-minute calls.

Several FCC commissioners were also disappointed in the ruling, but optimistic. Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued a joint statement highlighting how even having the partial regulation remain in effect is still a significant stride toward more reasonable phone bills:

We are pleased that millions of families will finally see relief from outrageous rates for inmate calling services when the interim rate caps… go into effect in February 2014. These families have been forced to pay exorbitant rates for far too long. Although we are disappointed that the court granted a partial stay on other aspects of the Inmate Calling Services Order, we look forward to a hearing on the merits soon, and to adopting further reforms quickly.

We are among the organizations intervening in the lawsuit, stay tuned for updates!

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