Next week, on October 22, the FCC will vote on a proposed rule that will provide much-needed relief to detainees and their families by capping intrastate phone rates in jails and prisons. We support the FCC’s efforts to address prohibitively expensive intrastate calling rates, but encourage the FCC to set lower caps and further regulate the practice of facilities collecting commissions on the revenue generated from jail phone systems.
Our comments to the FCC include the following recommendations:
Lower caps. We urge the FCC to set lower caps, and at minimum, emphasize and encourage states that have already negotiated more affordable rates to keep those rates. The rates ultimately proposed by the Commission will be considered an adequate standard, especially by counties that will have to lower their rates to be in compliance. In all likelihood, those localities will set rates as high as the cap. However, the New Jersey rates show that lower caps would be feasible for the jails and service providers, while granting greater relief to people held in the facilities and their families. Though the current FCC proposed rates should be considered a safeguard to encourage the most affordable rates, actually setting lower caps would compel counties, who otherwise would not be motivated to do so, to negotiate for the lower, feasible rates.
Commissions should be altogether banned. The FCC’s proposal can go further in providing relief for New Jersey families and others across the country by banning commissions. Phone companies pay millions of dollars in commissions to win contracts. This inevitably drives up the cost of phone calls as the companies then charge fees to pass on the price of commissions to consumers. An outright ban on commissions would remove the profit motive from re-negotiating higher rates. Jails and phone companies argue that the fees are legal and are used to pay a range of expenses for jails and prisons, as well as local governments. However, the vulnerable families of people held in jails should not be required to shoulder such expenses. The Commission has the statutory authority to ban commissions altogether, pursuant to sections 201(b) and 276 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. At a minimum, the FCC should ensure that states and localities set rates that are cost-based, so that commissions may not be considered when negotiating the rate for consumers, even if that means that the cost-based rates falls well below the applicable rate cap.
Read our comments to the FCC here.
These comments were submitted by the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, the New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.