HRDC FCC comment on one-cent rate reductions - Sept 2015
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Human Rights Defense Center DEDICATED TO PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS September 8, 2015 Submitted Online Only The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman Federal Communications Commission 445 12th St. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20554 Re: Comment for WC Docket 12-375 Dear Chairman Wheeler: The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) respectfully submits this comment for WC Docket No. 12-375 to provide a new perspective on the many thousands of pieces of financial data that have been entered on this Docket with respect to prison and jail phone services. Simply put, the value of each $0.01/min. reduction in ICS rates resulting from action taken by the Commission is worth significantly more than a penny to this nation’s prisoners and their families. The California Technology Agency included 2010 call volume as Attachment 1 to Agreement OPT 11-126805 for ICS. 1 See Exhibit 1. According to that data, 91,935,235 minutes of in-state calls (not including local calls) were made from prisoners housed in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) adult and juvenile facilities in 2010. Thus, each $0.01/min. reduction in ICS rates would result in annual savings to CDCR prisoners and their families of $919,352.35, or almost $1 million. The Arizona Department of Corrections (AZ DOC) included 2013 call volume data in its Solicitation No. ADOC14-00003887/14/066-24 for inmate calling services. 2 See Exhibit 2. Instate call volume from prisoners in the AZ DOC (not including local calls) totaled 12,892,932 minutes in 2013. Id. Reducing ICS rates by $0.01/min. would save AZ DOC prisoners and their family members $128,929.32 per year. 1 https://www.prisonphonejustice.org/media/phonejustice/CA_Contract_with_GTL_20122018_Part2.pdf at pp. 341342, attached as Exhibit 1 for the Commission’s convenience 2 https://www.prisonphonejustice.org/media/phonejustice/AZ%20Contract%20with%20CenturyLink%2020142019%20Part%201.pdf at p. 17, attached as Exhibit 2 for the Commission’s convenience P.O. Box 1151 Lake Worth, FL 33460 Phone: 561-360-2523 Fax: 866-735-7136 firstname.lastname@example.org Page |2 Census data updated in 2011 indicates that both California and Arizona experienced “significant increases in the number of children living in poverty and the number of people living in deep poverty. The Census defines people in deep poverty when they make 50% below the poverty line, which is $23,050 for a family of four.” 3 Numerous filings on this Docket demonstrate that a disproportionate number of prisoners and their families are poor. 4 The annual savings that would result from each $0.01/minute reduction in ICS rates for prisoners’ families in California and Arizona would be significant and, in some cases, would eliminate the need for hard choices to be made between staying in touch with loved ones during critical times of incarceration and buying food or paying rent and utilities. Each $0.01/min. ICS rate reduction is just as significant to families in states with small prisoner populations as it is to families with loved ones in the CDCR or AZ DOC. Prisoners in the South Dakota DOC, which has a population of just 3,651, 5 placed in-state calls (excluding local calls) totaling 3,962,119 minutes from April 2014 through March 2015. 6 See Exhibit 3. A reduction in ICS rates of just one penny per minute is thus worth $39,621.19 annually to South Dakota prisoners and their family members. HRDC remains steadfast in our position that ICS rates should be capped at $.05/min. for all types of calls, and we note at least eight state DOCs already charge ICS rates at or below that level. 7 ICS rates at CDCR prisons are $0.135/min. for all intrastate calls, and a reduction in ICS rates at CDCR facilities to $0.05/min. (a reduction of $0.085 per minute) would result in annual savings to California prisoners and their families of $7,814,495. The AZ DOC charges a $2.00 connection fee + $.24/min. for prepaid/debit intrastate interLATA calls, and a $2.40 connection fee + $.24/min. for collect interLATA calls. Prepaid/debit intrastate intraLATA calls require a $1.60 connection fee + $0.24/min., and there is a $2.00 connection fee for collect intraLATA calls + $0.20/min. 8 A rate reduction of $0.19/min. would bring current intrastate interLATA per-minute rates down to $0.05/min. and save Arizona prisoners and their families $2,449,657 annually, while reducing the intrastate intraLATA rates by $0.15/min. to $0.05/min. would result in savings of $1,933,939.80. Although the combined annual savings of $4,383,596.80 for intrastate calls to Arizona families would be huge, the elimination of the connection fee required for each phone call is equally important. The AZ DOC tallied 974,799 intrastate calls during 2013 (not including local calls) (Exhibit 2). The total cost for connection fees alone was just under $2 million ($1,999,281.60), paid by prisoners and their families, many of them poor, for the “privilege” of then paying an additional intrastate rate of $0.20-.24/min. For this reason, in addition to our position that ICS rates should be capped at $0.05/min. for all types of calls, we renew our call for the Commission to abolish not only ICS connection fees but all ancillary fees related to ICS, which serve as nothing more than another unjustified way to price gouge prisoners and their families. Unless the issue of fees is addressed, any rate caps 3 www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/06/state-poverty-rates-unemployed/1585837; the 2015 federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,250. See http://familiesusa.org/product/federal-poverty-guidelines 4 Also see, e.g., “Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned,” Prison Policy Initiative (July 9, 2015); www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html 5 www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf (Table 2) 6 Pay Tel Communications, Inc. Notice of Ex Parte (Attachment 1), Docket WC 12-375 filed August 24, 2015, relevant page attached as Exhibit 3 for the Commission’s convenience 7 Human Rights Defense Center Comment, Docket WC 12-375, filed July 29, 2015 8 www.prisonphonejustice.org/media/phonejustice/AZ%20Rate%20Sheet%202014.pdf Page |3 imposed by the FCC will be easily circumvented by ICS providers and correctional facilities, as we have seen happen since the implementation of interstate ICS rate caps in February 2014. We further call on the Commission to eliminate an industry practice of creating “flat rates” by multiplying capped rates times the maximum number of minutes allowed for the call (i.e., a 15minute prepaid interstate ICS call rated at $0.21/min. is billed at a flat rate of $3.15, regardless of the actual call duration). This practice, which has become more common since the FCC capped interstate ICS rates, can result in extremely high effective rates when calls are required to be cut short by either party. As the Commission is aware from the evidence in this record, dropped calls through no fault of the prisoner or call recipient require double-payment of the flat rate when the prisoner calls back. All parties to ICS calls should pay for actual call minutes used and nothing more. These changes should go into effect within 60 days of the filing of the Commission’s next Order that addresses ICS reforms. Please feel free to contact me should you require any additional information. Sincerely, Paul Wright Executive Director, HRDC Attachments Exhibit 1 Exhibit 2 Exhibit 3