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FCC issues order to reform prison phone industry

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2013.
Press release - FCC issues order to reform prison phone industry 2013

Joint press release issued by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice:

FCC Votes to End Predatory Phone Rates

Under leadership of Chairwoman Clyburn, FCC measure to provide economic relief to more than 2 million families of prisoners.
Center for Media Justice

Contact Info:

Brandi Collins, 510-698-3800 x409 |

Alex Friedmann, 615-495-6568 |

Washington D.C.- Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order to lower interstate prison phone rates, a move that will protect more than 2 million families who rely on long distance phone calls to stay connected to an incarcerated loved one. Present at the vote were families of prisoners, advocates and allies, and some of the original family members who filed a petition that was referred to the Commission to address the issue of predatory prison phone rates over 10 years ago.

“I am 36 years old, and the mother of two young boys, aged 5 and 10,” said Bethany Fraser, who testified in front of the FCC. “Losing their father to prison also meant losing over half of our family's income, and gaining a painfully large phone bill. As you vote today I would like each of you to know that I would do anything, and pay any amount to keep my children connected to their father.”

Interim FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn led the Commission’s efforts to reform a predatory prison phone market that charges up to a $1/minute plus additional fees to captive customers who rely on these phone calls to maintain relationships with loved ones who are incarcerated or detained. The new rules ensure that families of inmates -- including an estimated 2.7 million children -- will have an easier time staying connected, which research demonstrates reduces recidivism rates and increases community safety.

The FCC voted 2-1 in favor of reforming the prison phone industry and ending the price-gouging of families who accept calls from their incarcerated loved ones. Commissioner Ajit Pai cast the lone dissenting vote.

The FCC put in place a safe harbor rate of .12/minute for prepaid calls and .14min for collect calls. The order also imposes a rate cap of $.21/minute for debit and prepaid calls and $.25/minute for collect calls to ensure that prison phone rates are “just, reasonable and fair.” The FCC also determined that site commissions paid by prison phone companies to contracting government agencies (up to 70% of prison phone revenue) are not a cost of providing phone services and thus can not be recovered.

Today’s vote comes after more than a decade of advocacy by families of prisoners and is the result of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, a two-year national campaign led by the Media Action Grassroots Network, Prison Legal News and Working Narratives in collaboration with diverse public interest, civil rights, and human rights organizations.

“Phone companies have repeatedly claimed without evidence that protecting consumers threatens profits and security,” said Steven Renderos, from the Media Action Grassroots Network. “Today the FCC showed that they were listening to the research that overwhelmingly demonstrates keeping families connected through prison bars builds stronger families, better communities and makes us all safer.”

The FCC’s order applies to interstate phone calls (calls from one state to another) made from state or federal prisons, county jails and immigration detention facilities.

“This is truly a historic day that will affect more than 400,000 people in immigrant detention who are often detained in others states far from their loved ones and communities of support,” said Christina Fialho co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

In addition to today’s vote the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to gather more information to consider reforms related to in-state prison calls and addressing the needs of prisoners who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“The vote today was an important first step but we have more work to do,” said Alex Friedmann, with Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center. “State legislators and regulators have the power to follow the FCC’s lead and all appropriate agencies should work to ensure universal access to affordable phone rates for all consumers of prison phone calls.”

For more information about the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice: