Despite court stay, Mississippi sets new phone rates in accordance with FCC order
by Alison Walsh, March 23, 2016
The Mississippi Department of Corrections sent me an interesting press release last Friday about the state dropping the cost of prison phone calls from 22 cents to 11 cents per minute. The timing coincides with the FCC’s March 17 deadline, but the low rate is notable – and not just because Mississippi once ranked 48th in the country in call affordability. Under the terms of the Federal courts’ stay, states were only obligated to reduce their prepaid and debit rates to 21 cents per minute.
Now 11 cents isn’t a random figure. It’s the cap the FCC ordered, now stayed by the court. Back in 2015, the FCC concluded that 11 cents was a reasonable maximum rate for prisons to charge. This price limit was set to go into effect before the federal appeals court put certain sections of the FCC’s order on hold. Mississippi opted to go ahead with a rate of 11 cents voluntarily.
What prompted the steep decrease in Mississippi? In the third paragraph, Commissioner Marshall Fisher expresses concern for the families who pay a high price to speak to their loved ones: “We receive constant complaints from inmate family members and others regarding the high cost for phone service…This decision will significantly reduce expenses to the families.”
It looks like Mississippi has turned over a new leaf. The last head of the Mississippi prison system left a very different mark on telephone history. Former Commissioner Christopher B. Epps pled guilty last year to charges stemming from his role in a bribery scandal in which he accepted kickbacks from consultants of private companies, including phone giant Global Tel-Link, in exchange for awarding DOC contracts.
Whatever its motivations are for slashing its rates, Mississippi made an important point. As we reported earlier, a group of nine states came together to argue that the FCC set rate caps too low to account for the costs involved in providing phone service. Mississippi, without stalling or protesting, just proved that the FCC’s rate caps are workable after all.