FCC Caps Prison Telephone Rates

In a rare display of intelligence and rationality, the Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of new rules that cap the amount that telephone companies can charge for calls to and from prisons. The vote was 2-1 and, predictably, the one vote against it was a Republican.

In a 2 to 1 decision, the agency voted to immediately cap how much prison phone-service providers can charge the recipients of an inmate’s call at 25 cents per-minute so that a 15-minute long-distance call won’t exceed $3.75. The FCC also banned the providers from charging extra fees to connect a call or use a calling card.

The federal order affects a previously unregulated segment of the telecommunications industry and aims to end the explosion of prison calling costs that have reached as much as $20 for a 15-minute call in some states.

There are nearly 3 million children with a parent in prison and studies show that contact with their families is an important part of prisoner rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. But the phone companies who provide that service have been gouging the hell out of inmates and their families and giving kickbacks to the prisons:

Global Tel*Link, Securus and Century Link, the main providers in prisons, have argued in filings with the FCC that their services are more expensive to operate and require higher fees. The companies did not return calls for comment.

The companies have offered prisons a percentage of the fees they charge to connect prisoners’ calls. Prisons often use those commissions to pay staff salaries and benefits, as well as fund educational programs. Last year alone, prisons in 42 states received $103.9 million in commissions from the phone firms, according to Prison Legal News.

Frankly, this doesn’t go far enough. All of the money that has been kicked back to the prisons should also be refunded. Every dime of it should now go to pay for free phone service from the prisons until all that money is made up.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
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  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    Even at .25/minute nobody’s losing any money. I used to have nationwide 24-7 LD on my landline for a bout $30.00 a month. I dropped it a few years back because even if it didn’t cost them anything most people STILL didn’t want to talk to me; go figure.

  • machintelligence

    Century link likes to bundle unlimited long distance with their high speed internet. This is pretty much useless in the day of cell phones. Also their customer service sucks.

  • hunter

    I have unlimited local calling, 500 minutes a month LD, and Internet service on my land line for less than $60/mo. I’m doing good if I talk on the phone 500 minutes a year.

    $.25/minute is still a good hefty charge.

  • Paul Neubauer

    It isn’t just prisons where some companies charge these extortionate rates. A relative of my wife’s has been hospitalized for the last couple of years. She has called us (collect) a couple of times and the charges were eye-popping. Anyplace with a captive population may do this. I hope the FCC regulation extends beyond prisons.

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    The vote was 2-1 and, predictably, the one vote against it was a Republican…. There are nearly 3 million children with a parent in prison and studies show that contact with their families is an important part of prisoner rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.

    Republicans aren’t in favor of being hard on crime, they’re in favor of hardening criminals.

  • Ryan Jean

    “The companies did not return calls for comment.”

    Given the circumstances, that’s just comedy gold. I guess they felt it was just “too expensive” to take the call…

  • magistramarla

    We’ve always felt that these high prison phone rates helped to hasten my mother-in-law’s death.

    My brother-in-law spent a lot of time in and out of jail. We found out after Mom’s death that he had been calling her almost daily from prison, begging her for money, bail, lawyer fees, etc. and always reversed the charges to her phone.

    She was very fragile and had multiple health issues. She had refused to move to the state in which we were living so that we could take care of her. It seems that my brother-in-law, the phone company and the prison system took advantage of her.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “The vote was 2-1 and, predictably, the one vote against it was a Republican.”

    Instead of getting Big Government involved the Free Market should handle this. If the prisoners don’t like their service, they can always go to another carrier. What do you have against choice? Yes, yes, I know they only have one choice, but the choice to not choose is itself a choice.

    And this is the Miracle of the Invisible Hand of the Free Market.

    /me closes book, puffs on pipe

    Now, wasn’t that a nice story?

  • loren

    For those who want to rake the Republican over the coals on this, it wouldn’t hurt to actually read what he had to say (it’s not very long):

    http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-reduces-high-long-distance-calling-rates-paid-inmates

    He explicitly discusses that he believes prison phone rates can be ridiculously high and how it’s not a free market for inmates, he mentions that he proposed an alternate and simpler system of capping phone charges, and he says the system being adopted is unreasonably complicated and liable to not survive a legal challenge. He also warns that the system being adopted could result in lessened phone privileges in some locations.

    And he finishes with this:

    “In conclusion, I very much hope that my concerns about today’s order prove to be unfounded. I

    hope that these rules will be easy to administer. I hope no inmates will lose access to calling services.

    And I hope that security inside and outside of prisons does not suffer. But because I can only make these

    statements out of hope rather than belief, I must respectfully and regretfully dissent.”

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    @9:

    As the various state regulatory agencies loved to say, back when I worked for a telecom (which will remain nameless–but here’s a hint, Ve-izon) which was whining about not being able to fuck the public as much as their competition was allowed to fuck the public, “We remain unconvinced”.

    Your link doesn’t do anything to make your case. Ajit (the dissenting commissioner–who may not even BE a republican) sez, “yada, yada, too hard, yada, yada.” which means exactly jackshit. That he is a former in-house counsel for Ve-izon does not ‘zackly make me think of him as a champion of the people. The other two commissioners, according to their bios worked on PSC’s or had jobs with the FCC or Congress prior to being appointed.

    Mr. Ajit may be a really, really swell guy but I will take his pronouncement with enough salt to make about 10,000 margaritas.

  • loren

    @10:

    “The other two commissioners, according to their bios worked on PSC’s or had jobs with the FCC or Congress prior to being appointed.”

    So did Pai. According to his FCC bio, “Between 2007 and 2011, Commissioner Pai held several positions in the FCC’s Office of General Counsel, serving most prominently as Deputy General Counsel.” He worked in the DoJ’s Antitrust division under President Clinton, and also for Congress: “Pai has worked on Capitol Hill as well, first as Deputy Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, and later as Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights.”

    You obviously looked at his bio in order to learn that he worked for Verizon (from 2001 to 2003). And yet you ignored everything *except* Verizon in an attempt to contrast his resume with the other commissioners.

  • Ryan Jean

    @11, loren:

    While working for one of the telecoms is not automatically a sign that his motives are impure, it does raise a significant red flag about them. Given a lack of other information from which to analyze why he may have voted that way, and the all-too-often revolving door between regulators and the industries they regulate, that fact is prominent and at least worthy of consideration.

    The other thing, though, is that he acknowledged things need to be done and that these *might* be adequate, so to paraphrase Voltaire, why let the perfect be the enemy of the good? If this has a reasonable chance of being a distinct improvement, go for it. Of course, if he’s really holding out for the perfect, one has to wonder where his magically better proposal for that is and why he has never pointed out what improvements could be made to the current proposal. Absent that, it’s no wonder he sounds so much like a concern troll…

  • loren

    “The other thing, though, is that he acknowledged things need to be done and that these *might* be adequate, so to paraphrase Voltaire, why let the perfect be the enemy of the good?”

    Obviously I can only speculate as to ‘why’, but perhaps because his vote was moot in light of 2 ‘yea’ votes? Perhaps if he was the swing vote, he would’ve voted differently. Maybe, maybe not.

    But he obviously has some serious reservations about the plan being adopted, and when his vote doesn’t actually matter, it makes more sense to outline those reservations in the form of a dissent rather than as an endorsement. (Note that the other two Commissioners don’t say much about the plan’s specifics at all.)

    “Of course, if he’s really holding out for the perfect, one has to wonder where his magically better proposal for that is and why he has never pointed out what improvements could be made to the current proposal.”

    Did you actually read what he wrote? He doesn’t go into details, but he *does* give a very brief overview of the plan he proposed and which the others apparently rejected: “In an effort to seek common ground, I offered a simple proposal to cap interstate rates, with one rate for jails and a lower rate for prisons. My proposal would have cut interstate rates for prisoners in 36 states (and slashed exorbitant rates by more than 50 percent in 26 states) while balancing the need for security. It would have been easy for the FCC to administer and easier for the courts to sustain.”

  • sundoga

    Ah, as regards your last comment, Ed, no, I disagree entirely. I can accept that the actions of these Telcos were unethical, but they were legal, and there can never be a good case for ex post facto law.

  • adobo

    @9

    Here, here! Thanks for pointing that to every biased liberal in here. I totally agree with you because when I think of compassionate and non-bigoted egalitarian champions of the poor and destitute, I automatically think of Republicans!

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “It would have been easy for the FCC to administer and easier for the courts to sustain.”

    Really, you know this? Ajit KNOWS this? Yeah, I’ll concur with the concern troll observation @12. If he had a plan he didn’t dwell on it. I think his reaction is one that Aesop covered in the fable about the fox and the grapes.

    I worked in Verizon Regulatory for 5-1/2 years. During that period I handled work product for hundreds of hearings before various state PSC’s, DPU and Dept. of Telecom boards. Verizon, AT&T, MCI, SBC and the over 150 start-ups and P.O. box re-sellers out there lied through their teeth when it served their purpose. They lied with no more thought than I might use to butter a piece of toast. Verizon lied to its employees, shareholders and the general public as well as government regulators and other functionaries. Verizon, AT&T and MCI used the SAME expert witness testimony in different cases/venues to buttress the particular point that they were trying to make to prove their case. Was it all legal, prolly, they are nothing if not thoroughgoing in that regard. Moral and ethical, don’t make me laugh.Trusting the telecoms to tell the truth is about as likely, for me, as trusting the oil companies.