Movement victory: FCC proposes to regulate prison telephone industry

36,690 SumOfUs members call on FCC to cap rates charged to families of incarcerated people

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 15, 2012

Contact:
Leah Sakala (413) 527-0845

36,690 public comments in support of the Wright PetitionWashington D.C.- The monopolistic prison telephone industry took a hit today when FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn announced that the FCC is considering a proposal to cap the predatory monopoly rates charged to families of incarcerated people. She announced that yesterday Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a regulatory proposal to the other commissioners for consideration.

The proposed Federal Communications Commission regulation would be a key turning point in a decade-long multi-organization campaign to protect the poorest families in the nation from predatory telephone charges. The announcement was made at a rally outside the FCC offices in Washington D.C. where several organizations submitted petitions containing more than 40,000 signatures calling for the regulation.

At the rally, the corporate accountability organization SumOfUs and partner organization the Prison Policy Initiative submitted the comments of 36,690 SumOfUs members collected from around the nation with varying connections to the criminal justice system. For example, one petitioner is a prison staff member hailing from Vermont. Just two minutes after this Vermont prison staff member signed the petition, a mother from Carson City, Nevada with a son incarcerated in San Quentin Prison in California signed the petition. Nearly all of the petitioners underscored the same point: that the families of incarcerated persons should not be forced to endure telephone prices that exponentially exceed those charged for ordinary telephone service. A coalition of organizations including Media Action Grassroots Network, Working Narratives, Prison Legal News and Participant Media also collected submissions for other petitions.

“This is a big step forward for fairness,” said Drew Kukorowski of the Prison Policy Initiative. “The Federal Communications Commission is the only disinterested party with the power to protect the real consumers: incarcerated people and their families.”

In September, Kukorowski authored a Prison Policy Initiative report, “The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry,” calling for the regulation of the prison telephone industry. The report revealed that the three phone companies that dominate 90% of the industry set calling rates that are excessively high, “kick back” a portion of the revenue to the states, and in exchange receive monopoly contracts with state prison systems.

“For over a decade the FCC let this injustice continue,” SumOfUs Executive Director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said. “But under the weight of growing public opinion it is about to take the critical first step toward regulating prison phone costs.”

“We commend the FCC and call on them to accept and implement the rule. People all over the Unites States are sick of the privatization of public services, from schools to hospitals to prisons.”

“It’s time the FCC made sure prison phone companies cannot prey on the 2.7 million kids in the U.S. who have a parent in prison and rely on phone calls to provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy.”

The next step is for the FCC Commissioners to vote on the text of a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”. If approved, the FCC would open a new comment period for the public — and the prison telephone industry —to submit evidence on whether or not it should be implemented.

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