FCC Seeks to Lower Inmate Calling Rates

DALLAS — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed an order on Aug. 6 that would reduce the rates of inmate calls, cut off payments to prisons and jails for commissions and weaken correctional security.

The FCC claimed that the “exorbitant price of interstate long-distance calls” discouraged inmates from reaching out to family and friends and taking necessary steps to ease their transition back into society. The commission’s goal with the proposal to reduce rates is to “provide an affordable means to encourage such communication.”

The FCC approved this order with a 2-1 vote from Commissioners Pai, Clyburn and Rosenworcel.

Securus Technologies Inc. plans to oppose the FCC’s proposal. If passed, the order would lower rates in inmate telecommunications to below the cost of operating those systems.

Richard A. Smith, CEO and president of Securus Technologies, strongly opposed the plan: “I have been in telecommunications for over 41 years and have been involved in regulation for that entire time — and have never seen the FCC ignore facts and impose a solution that prices services below the cost of providing those services, and in addition, strips prisons and jails of dollars that will eliminate funding for victims assistance, inmate welfare and health programs and will likely result in weaker security features that help to keep society safe,” he said.

Smith claimed that reducing the cost of calling could ultimately result in the deaths of inmates, witnesses, friends and family members of victims and of security officers. He also claimed that the FCC’s goal with the rate reduction is to cut off the interstate commissions companies like Securus Technologies pay prisons and jails. The only foreseeable benefit that would stem from the reduction would go to inmates.

One point of Smith’s discussion of the issue centered on the pricing examples FCC relied on in its proposal. “In its press release, the FCC referred to prices of more than $17 for one 15-minute call — that very high, atypical rate is absolutely done to exaggerate the facts. Our average interstate call across all facilities is only $4, with higher rates at smaller facilities and lower rates at larger facilities — a far cry from $17 per call,” Smith said. Additional examples include rates as high as $30, $50 and $60. These inflated rates prompt the attention of FCC and partner groups while hurting companies like Securus.

Securus’ calling rates include funding for prison programs to help reduce recidivism and provide services to innocent victims. The rates also help support security controls, and rely on commissions to help support the cost of operating the systems.

Securus plans to bring FCC to court over the issue in order to protect competition and smaller facilities’ ability to choose service providers.

The final version of the FCC’s proposal is expected within the next 30 days.

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