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Prison Policy Initiative asked California Public Utilities Commission to cap the cost of calling home from California jails

by Peter Wagner, November 10, 2020

Yesterday, the Prison Policy Initiative filed comments before the California Public Utility Commission, calling for it to reduce the cost of calling home from California prisons and jails. Our comments included a comprehensive survey of the phone rates in each county.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission capped the cost of interstate calls at 21¢ per minute and is currently accepting comments on a proposal to lower that cap further still. However, FCC rate caps only apply to calls that cross states lines. But most calls do not cross state lines and those calls can cost far more — up to 90¢ per minute. For now, it is up to individual states to set rate caps for calls that stay within a state, so the California Public Utility Commission announced on October 19 that it was requesting comments on whether and how it should begin to regulate the industry.

Our comments review the cost of in-state calls from California facilities, as well as the too-high cost of video calls from California facilities. Our comments also addressed two other harmful practices: the prevalence of vendors bundling the phone and video services together into one complicated exploitative contract; and evidence showing that some vendors are charging more than the maximum $3 deposit fees authorized by the Federal Communications Commission.

The Utilities Commission will be accepting reply comments on November 19 and holding a pre-hearing conference on December 10. The Utilities Commission expects to have a proposed decision in the spring or summer of 2021. All of the documents filed in this rulemaking are available in Docket 20-10-002.

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