HRDC comment to FCC re GTL's petition for waiver of deadline to implement jail phone reforms - June 2016
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Human Rights Defense Center DEDICATED TO PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS June 17, 2016 Submitted Online Only The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman Federal Communications Commission 445 12th St. S.W. Washington, DC 20554 Re: Comment for WC Docket 12-375 Dear Chairman Wheeler: The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) respectfully submits this comment in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC or the Commission) Request for Comment on Global Tel*Link Corporation’s Petition for Waiver of Deadline to Implement Rules 64.6080 and 64.6090 for Jails, WC Docket No. 12-375. The families of prisoners forced to deal with Global Tel*Link (GTL) should not be required to continue being financially exploited by paying excessive “per-call or per-connection” charges or “flat rate calling” due to GTL’s inability to re-negotiate its jail contracts in a timely manner. GTL “serves approximately 700 jails across the United States” 1 – an estimated 22% of this country’s 3,163 jails. 2 It would appear the prison phone companies that service the majority of those jails are not having similar difficulties, given the absence of other petitions for waiver on this Docket. Consumers unfortunate enough to have to deal with GTL should not have to pay more than consumers who deal with prison phone service providers that presumably are able to meet the June 20, 2016 deadline for the FCC’s jail phone reforms. GTL had ample notice and opportunity to make arrangements for this eventuality long before the FCC issued its new rules. Not coincidentally, GTL will continue to reap profits off the backs of prisoners’ families – the poorest consumers in America – the longer these rules are held in abeyance. 1 Global Tel*Link Corporation’s Petition for Waiver of Deadline to Implement Rules 64.6080 and 64.6090 for Jails, WC Docket 12-375, June 1, 2016. 2 https://members.aja.org/About/StatisticsOfNote.aspx. ______________________________________________________________________________ P.O. Box 1151 Lake Worth, FL 33460 Phone: 561.360.2523 Fax: 866.735.7136 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Page |2 It is important to note that the reason GTL is running out of time is because it is taking advantage of this opportunity to re-negotiate contracts to do much more than make revisions to those portions of existing contracts affected by the FCC’s Order, 3 as evidenced by Amendment 1 to a Master Agreement with Pima County, Arizona dated February 24, 2016. (Attachment 1) As detailed in Attachment 1: 1. The Agreement term is extended for two additional years through August 31, 2019. At the time of the amendment there was still over one year remaining on the term of the current Agreement. (Page 1, ¶1). 2. Pima County, Arizona “shall have no right to terminate the Agreement” due to its convenience. (Page 1, ¶2). 3. Enhanced Services, in this case IP-enabled tablets provided by an entity identified as “GTL Enhanced Services, LLC,” will be implemented “as soon as reasonably practicable,” incorporating this service into the Agreement. (Page 1, ¶3). 4. One month following the full deployment of the IP-enabled tablets, ICS rates will increase from $2.25 for a 15-minute call ($0.15/min.) to $0.20/min. Additionally, GTL is requiring Pima County to allow ICS “call durations of no less than sixty (60) minutes per call. (Pages 1-2, ¶4). It isn’t until Paragraph 5 of the Amendment that any “negotiating” is done with respect to terms and conditions of the Master Agreement that are affected by the Commission’s Order, and Paragraph 6 amends the commission kickback to $0.02/min. on completed calls. Paragraph 7 of the Amendment adds video visitation as an Enhanced Service, also to be implemented “as soon as reasonably practicable following the Amendment Effective Date.” Video visits will cost $0.30/min., and Pima County will receive a kickback based on a sliding scale of 20-70% based on minutes of use; that is, the more that families can afford to be price gouged, the more money the county stands to make. (Attachment 1, pp.16-17 of Exhibit 2). Let’s review: GTL has filed a Petition for Waiver requesting an additional 90 days before implementation of Rules 64.6080 and 64.6090, purportedly because they have not had adequate time to re-negotiate approximately 700 jail contracts. GTL blames its need for a waiver on “confusion” caused by the stays issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (DC Circuit). Even if we set aside the fact that the stays were issued as the direct result of GTL’s own legal action, it is clear from the Pima County Amendment that GTL is taking this opportunity to re-negotiate all aspects of its contracts – including the addition of “Enhanced Services” to allow the company to not only continue exploiting prisoners’ families and reaping large profits after the FCC’s jail reforms go into effect, but also to give them the opportunity to further exploit and gouge prisoners and their families by expanding into the new “markets” of video visitation, e-mail (at $1 per e mail), and game and music downloads. 3 Interstate Inmate Calling Services, Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 30 FCC Rcd 12763 (2015). Page |3 The only thing GTL needs more time to do is figure out how to make still more money off the poorest, most disenfranchised segment of American society: prisoners and their family members. As another example, now that GTL cannot charge a “connection fee,” which filled its corporate coffers by charging call recipients multiple connection fees due to call limits of 15 or 20 minutes, GTL is now demanding ICS call durations of at least 60 minutes to increase volume. Prisoners’ families should not be required to pay for connection charges or flat-rate phone calls for even one minute past the June 20, 2016 compliance deadline so that the hedge fund that owns GTL can make more money. The impact on prisoners’ families far outweighs the impact on GTL and its multi-billion dollar owner, American Securities. 4 Enough is enough. HRDC is calling on the Commission to deny GTL’s Petition for Waiver of Deadline to Implement Rules 64.6080 and 64.6090 for Jails. GTL has had adequate time to re-negotiate the terms of its existing jail contracts, easily done by a one-page revision containing the language in Paragraph 5 of the Pima County Amendment. GTL should not be allowed to continue taking financial advantage of prisoners and their families under the guise of needing more time to renegotiate their contracts. This is especially true when such negotiations include efforts by GTL to expand its business (and thus profits) by seeking contract changes to add Enhanced Services, extend contract expiration dates, alter call durations and eliminate the ability of jails to cancel ICS contracts for convenience. It is with no sense of historical irony that GTL filed its last-minute request to delay compliance with the FCC’s Order so it can continue exploiting prisoners and their families. The Order is scheduled to go into effect on June 20, or one day after Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States and the day Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform slaves and slave owners that President Lincoln had ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation over two years earlier in 1863. Prisoners’ families have waited for more than a decade for the Commission to act to curb the rapacious greed of prison telecom companies and their government partners. Like the slave owners of old, GTL should not be allowed to “reap one more harvest” off the backs of poor people before these insidious practices are ended. Justice can countenance no further delays. GTL’s request on the eve of Juneteenth for yet another delay in implementing the FCC’s rules should be denied. Further, we renew our call for the Commission to require ICS providers to post all prison phone contracts and amendments, the rates charged and the kickbacks paid to obtain and keep those contracts on their websites within 30 days of execution. Lack of transparency has long been and remains a problem in the ICS industry; the lengths to which HRDC and other advocates must go in order to obtain documents of “public record” are well-noted on this Docket. Without access to documents like the Pima County ICS contract amendment, as one example, neither the Commission nor the public would have any way of knowing what these companies are doing. 4 American Securities boasts of having $15 billion in committed capital with investments in companies generating $13 billion in revenue. See: www.american-securities.com/our-firm. Page |4 The Commission also lacks the resources to track down all of these contracts and their kickback provisions. The only way that advocates, taxpayers, consumers and policymakers can make informed decisions is by having this information readily available, not shrouded in secrecy. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Respectfully submitted, Paul Wright Executive Director, HRDC Attachment Attachment 1