New FCC prison phone regulation proposal play-by-play

Will the FCC ban commissions, cap all calling rates, and eliminate fees?

by Leah Sakala, October 27, 2014

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed several new regulations to protect the families of incarcerated people from the predatory prison telephone industry. These rules would fill major gaps in the current regulations and help ensure that no child who wants to talk to his or her incarcerated parent will fall through the cracks.

As we promised, here’s an overview of the FCC’s 77-page notice:

The FCC is calling for feedback on its new proposal to…

  • Ban kickbacks altogether. The FCC’s previous order said that companies aren’t allowed to treat the kickbacks as part of the cost of doing business, but the FCC is now seeking comment on getting rid of this perverse incentive that drives up the cost of calls.
  • Cap in-state and out-of-state calling rates. The previous FCC regulation capped only the rates for calls between states, which tend to be more expensive but also only make up about 20% of all calls from incarcerated people. This new proposal would make sure that a family wouldn’t have to pay more to talk to an incarcerated loved one just because that person was in the same state.
  • Cap, limit, or flat-out prohibit “ancillary fees.” Our research found that fees drive up the phone bills families have to pay, so this step would make a huge difference for the more than 2 million kids with an incarcerated parent.

The FCC also requests more feedback on…

  • How to address additional communication services, such as video visitation, that suffer from many of the same market failures as phone services.
  • Strategies to make the prison phone market more competitive, and increase access for individuals with disabilities.
  • Applying the new regulations to existing contracts.
  • Coordinating with state regulatory efforts.
  • The costs and requirements for phone systems among different kinds of facilities.
  • The actual cost of providing communications services in correctional facilities, and cost/benefit analyses of the regulatory proposals.

Here at PPI, we were pleased to see that the FCC cited our research, presentations, petition submissions, and technical comments throughout their proposal to take a huge step forward. We’ll certainly continue to weigh in as soon as the comment period opens up (when notice is published in the Federal Register, which should be any day now). The comment period will run for 45 days, and we hope that you will share your thoughts with the FCC too. We’ll be sure to keep you all posted as soon as the comment period opens.

3 responses:

  1. Ruth says:

    I think that more research is required before anymore blanket regulations are passed. As a jail administrator in Maryland, we are mandated by state law to deposit ALL phone commissions into the Inmate Welfare Fund, and that fund is mandated by law to only be spent on and for the inmates who are incarcerated. This fund pays for inmate programs, gym equipment, free Christmas cards for inmates to send home to their families, books for GED programs, etc. I don’t know what happens in other states, but Maryland does not, and, more importantly, CANNOT place the money in the general fund. Capping rates for everyone will hurt those states who use the money generated for the betterment of inmates.

    1. Leah Sakala says:

      Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for your comment. While many states do deposit commission revenue directly into their general coffers, some, as you mention, direct the money to specific programs and funds. Price-gouging the families of incarcerated people, however, is an inappropriate revenue stream regardless of where the money goes. Perhaps Verizon said it best in its filing to the FCC, stating that, “…forcing inmates’s families to fund these programs through their calling rates is not the answer. Because higher rates necessarily reduce inmates’s telephone communications with their families and thus impede the well-recognized societal benefits resulting from such communications, other funding sources should be pursued” (


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