Prison Policy Initiative asks FCC to reject prison phone company’s request for special treatment to peddle “subscription” phone plans

Securus wants the FCC to waive its rules, but won’t disclose important details about how the plans work.

by Wanda Bertram, January 10, 2022

Securus, a giant prison phone company with a history of misconduct, recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to give the company special permission to peddle flat-rate subscription plans in lieu of charging callers a set amount per minute. The Prison Policy Initiative asked the FCC today to reject Securus’s flimsy bid for special regulatory treatment. In our comments to the FCC, we express our concerns with Securus’s petition:

  1. Subscription plans could be a good deal for consumers. Or they could be a rip-off. As with most things, the devil is in the details, but Securus hasn’t provided any details on how its subscriptions work. The company’s marketing materials play down or completely omit important details about the plans — for example, that all payments you make via the subscription model are non-refundable, even in the (quite common) case that your loved one can’t use the phone for days or weeks. Securus emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of its subscription products while withholding most details that could make customers reasonably question the value of a subscription plan.
  2. Securus makes several claims about its subscription plan — including claiming that a pilot of the subscription plan showed “increased call length” and “reduced costs” — without providing any supporting data.
  3. Securus claims that the “effective” per-minute rates for its subscription plans are “well below” the FCC’s current rate caps, but this claim is based on the debatable assumption that subscribers will use all the minutes they possibly can.
  4. Securus has declined to disclose important details about its pilot of the subscription model, such as how many customers subscribed, what subscribers’ average usage was, what the average per-minute rate for users was, and what Securus’s profit margin on subscription programs was.
  5. We still don’t know what counts as a “call” under the subscription pricing plan. If an incarcerated caller places a call but no one answers, this may count against the weekly or monthly allowance, making subscriptions a far worse deal for consumers. This is just one of several material questions that Securus doesn’t answer in its petition.
  6. Securus hasn’t even precisely defined what it wants. At various points in the petition it states that it wants to: continue its pilot subscription program at eight prisons and jails, expand the program, or let any phone company offer subscription plans.

The FCC shouldn’t waive its long-standing rules for Securus unless it would clearly serve the public interest to do so. Securus should face a high burden of proof before the FCC grants it special treatment, particularly given the company’s history of nickel-and-diming its customers.

You can read our full comments here.

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