Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Report and Order on Remand and a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Report and Order asserts the FCC’s jurisdiction over “ancillary fees” and the FNPRM will propose to reduce rates and charges for inmate calling services within the Commission’s jurisdiction to ensure that inmate calling services are priced reasonably and fairly for consumers. Ancillary fees are charges not included in the per-minute rate for the call, such as an extra charge for billing a call to a third-party telephone number.
Public Knowledge applauds the Commission’s efforts and urges the agency to reduce the high rates of interstate inmate calling services so that inmates can connect with their families. However, the pandemic only increases the need for Congress to enact legislation that gives the FCC jurisdiction over intrastate rates, as well.
The following can be attributed to Albert Kramer, Senior Fellow at Public Knowledge:
“For too long, families have borne the burden of paying extremely high rates to call their incarcerated loved ones. These rates have grown financially burdensome for some, and are even more painful given the pandemic as many cannot safely visit their loved ones. By claiming jurisdiction over ancillary fees, the FCC has moved to apply the agency’s uniform rate caps to the fees permitted under the FCC rules instead of allowing differing — and often higher — state charges for these services. We look forward to working with the FCC to determine whether these charges should be lowered as part of the Rulemaking.
“Additionally, the FNPRM proposes to reduce the current cap on most interstate calls from incarceration facilities from $.21 to $.14 per minute. Although we applaud this effort to reduce rates, as well as the Commission’s proposal to make rates from prisons and jails uniform, we believe the data may support further reductions because the proposed rates include some charges inconsistent with some rules. Reducing rates is especially important as consumers struggle with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
“While the Commission is moving in the right direction in the interstate arena, there remains an urgent need for Congress to pass pending legislation that would give the FCC jurisdiction to regulate rates for intrastate charges — roughly 80% of all inmate calls. We agree with the FCC’s analysis that inmate calling service providers are charging ‘egregiously high’ intrastate rates, with 33 states allowing rates at least double the current federal cap. We urge Congress to act now to enable the FCC to regulate these intrastate rates — as staying connected to loved ones has never been more important.”
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