Calling on the FCC to make the most of its upcoming rulemaking on prison and jail telecom rates

Ahead of the FCC’s vote on new prison and jail phone rate caps, The Leadership Conference sent a letter to the agency, and we signed on.

by Wanda Bertram, June 20, 2024

Thumbnail of letter to FCC

The landmark 2023 Martha Wright-Reed Fair and Just Communications Act set in motion a new round of rulemaking at the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that incarcerated people and their families are paying fair rates for phone and video calls. As the FCC prepares to vote on new regulations, we joined The Leadership Conference (a coalition of over 200 civil rights organizations) in a letter sent to the agency this week with recommendations for how it can make the most of this opportunity.

First and foremost, we urge the FCC to set rate caps as low as possible for voice and video calls. The current rate caps, handed down in 2021, allow local jails to charge a maximum of 21 cents per minute, a rate that family members say can still add up to several hundred dollars a month. The letter notes that costs could be brought down “as low as pennies per minute,” as evidenced by the rates companies are already charging in counties like San Mateo, Cali. and Dallas, Texas, as well as many state prisons.

Beyond setting rate caps, The Leadership Conference letter also calls on the FCC to:

  • Adopt consumer disclosure labels for prison and jail telecom products, to help customers understand whether they are being illegally charged (particularly after the new rate caps go into effect).
  • Take extreme care when considering new pricing structures proposed by the companies, particularly subscription-based pricing, and only approve them if they are shown to save consumers money.
  • Close regulatory loopholes to ensure that all prisons and jails are providing people who have hearing disabilities with the services they need to call home.

Recent data have shown how prison telecom companies continue to strike lucrative contracts with correctional facilities, particularly jails, deals that impose high costs on consumers and strain their bonds with loved ones. Diligent federal regulation can stop the worst of these abuses. We call on the FCC to use its rare mandate from Congress to guarantee the fairest possible deal for incarcerated people and their families.

Read the full letter from The Leadership Conference here:

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