New FCC Rules Go Into Effect Today!

Surcharges will be banned in jails starting on June 20th, so the $2 fee in Passaic County jail and two other jails will be eliminated, bringing down the rate for a 15 minute call from $4.25 to $2.25 and providing relief for the few remaining families in New Jersey that are still paying excessive rates.

See the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice’s press release with a quote from Karina Wilkinson on behalf of NJAID here.

Here’s a good explanation of the new rules from Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner:

What Families Can Expect from the New FCC Rules

by Peter Wagner, March 17, 2016

The Federal Communications Commission’s historic October 2015 order expanding its regulations of the prison and jail telephone industry goes into effect today. It’s a little complicated because prisons and jails have different effective dates, and part of the FCC’s order has been stayed by the federal courts. And on March 16, the FCC issued a public notice — which if the companies stay true to form, they are likely to challenge in court — reminding the companies that in-state calls are also to be capped. Barring new rulings from the court, here is what the families of incarcerated people can expect.

For prisons, starting today:

…The abusive hidden fees that our report Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry found can easily double the price of a call are now capped:

Payment by phone or website: $3 (previously up to $10)
Payment via live operator: $5.95 (previously up to $10)
Paper bills: $2 (previously up to $3.49)
Markups and hidden fees embedded within Western Union and MoneyGram payments: $0 (previously up to $6.95)
Markups and hidden profits on mandatory taxes and regulatory fees: $0 (We’ve seen these markups and hidden profits on “mandatory” taxes be 25% of the cost of the call)
All other ancillary fees: $0. (There are many of these charges. Some of the most egregious ones are $10 fees for refunds, $2.50/month for “network infrastructure” and a 4% charge for “validation”.)

For jails, starting June 20, 2016:

…The caps on the abusive fees discussed above will go into effect for calls from jails on June 20th.

After the court’s partial stay on the FCC order is lifted:

Assuming that the federal court lifts its partial stay and the FCC’s October order goes fully into effect at a later date, families can expect to see the following results:

In prisons, the cost of a call will drop to $0.11 a minute.

In jails, the cost of a debit/prepaid call will fall to $0.14 to $0.22 a minute, depending on the size of the jail. (Traditional collect calls will initially be higher and then, over a two year period, fall to the $0.14-0.22 level.)
For both prisons and jails, the companies will be prohibited from defying the FCC’s rate caps by steering families to abusive “single call” products like Text2Connect™ and PayNow™ that charge $9.99-$14.99 for a single call.

The Court has not set a schedule for the case yet, so we do not know when the partial stay might be lifted.

International calling and advanced communication services

The FCC also sought comments on regulating international calling and advanced communications services like video visitation and email, so the FCC is likely considering regulations of those services as well. The comment period closed in January, and we do not know when the FCC will rule on those issues.