FCC to Vote on Limiting Costs of Inmate Phone Calls

The Federal Communications Commission will vote later this month on proposed rules to limit the rates and service fees for phone calls made from jails and prisons. As reported in The New York Times:

Rates for phone calls from jails and prisons are typically far more expensive than normal commercial charges and can cost as much as $14 a minute. Service fees often add another 40 percent, resulting in phone bills as high as $500 a month, inmates’ families and prison advocacy groups say.

The proposed rules would impose a rate of 11 cents a minute on state or federal prison calls and cap the cost of calls made from local jails at 14 to 22 cents a minute, based on the size of the jail.

Those amounts generally fall between the rate of about 5 to 7 cents a minute that inmates’ families and prison advocates sought and the rate of 20 cents a minute that companies in the prison phone industry proposed.

As the article notes, fees collected from prison phone companies and paid to detention centers help fund their services.

In 2013, $460 million in concession fees was paid to jails and prisons, and to state, county and local governments, according to the F.C.C. The fees are legal and are used to pay a range of expenses for jails and prisons, as well as local governments.

The current F.C.C. proposal — part of a plan by Tom Wheeler, the commission’s chairman, and Mignon L. Clyburn, one of the F.C.C.’s five commissioners — does not seek to abolish commissions because its ability to do so is legally questionable, said the senior F.C.C. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal had not yet been read by each member of the commission.

The proposal, expected to be voted on at the commission’s Oct. 22 meeting, would cap calling rates at 22 cents a minute for jails with fewer than 349 inmates, at 16 cents for jails with 350 to 999 inmates, and at 14 cents for jails with more than 1,000 inmates.

All state and federal prisons would be allowed to charge a maximum of 11 cents a minute.

The FCC is expected to vote on the proposed changes at its October 22, 2015 meeting.

For more information read the full article in The New York Times and the FCC Fact Sheet (pdf).