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HRDC comment to FCC on ICS USF fees

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Human Rights Defense Center

September 6, 2019
Federal Communications Commission
443 12th St., SW
Room TW-A325
Washington, DC 20554
Re: WC Docket No. 19-232
To the Federal Communications Commission:
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) is the co-founder of the national Campaign for Prison Phone
Justice i, which is committed to reducing barriers to communication between prisoners and their support
networks. HRDC submits this comment for the administrative record and states our support for National
Communications International Corporation’s (NCIC) petition for Inmate Calling Services (ICS)
forbearance from the application of Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution requirements.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maintains responsibility for ensuring fair and equitable
access to communication services across this country. There are currently 2.3 million people incarcerated
in the United States ii who are generating a combined estimated $1.2 billion annual revenue for private
ICS companies iii. As NCIC has outlined in its petition, the costs associated with ICS are excessively
onerous for the people who use ICS and must therefore be regulated.
Although FCC capped the costs of interstate telephone calls in 2015 iv, lax USF guidelines have enabled
ICS companies to circumvent the intended caps and increase the costs for every jail and prison telephone
call. In order to preserve their core revenue in the face of the FCC cap on interstate telephone rates, ICS
companies now include a universal service line item to cover the costs of USF contributions; NCIC
estimates that this line item adds $58 million to the annual cost burden on prisoners and their loved ones.
Individuals who are forced to use ICS already pay the highest costs for telephone calls in the country. In
15 states, a single 15 minute telephone call can exceed $15.00 v. In the state of Washington, jail telephone
rates have been increasing steadilyvi despite public attention to the injustices of expensive ICS. These
costs disproportionately impact low-income families—the very people intended to benefit from the USF
into which the extra fees are being deposited. As yet another fee that has been allowed to inflate these
costs, the implementation of the USF contribution requirements has demonstrably injured its intended
It is clear that excessive fees collected under the pretense of USF contribution requirements must be
overturned to facilitate fair and equitable jail and prison telephone access. In this petition, NCIC has
effectively argued that abolishing USF contribution requirements will minimally impact the FCC budget,
successfully reduce financial encumbrances on prisoners and their families, and present an opportunity to
remedy the intended purpose of USF contributions. HRDC fully supports this petition and asks FCC to

P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-360-2523

keep actively improving the terms of ICS moving forward as well. Prison phone justice demands nothing
less than clear and immediate action from the highest authorities in this country.

Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC