July 18, 2014 - 11:22 am
By Kalpak Gude | Chief, Pricing Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau

On July 9, 2014 the FCC held a workshop to analyze the impact of, and discuss issues relating to, ongoing reforms of Inmate Calling Services (ICS). 

Last fall, the Commission – in response to a petition that had languished for almost a decade – reformed what it concluded was an unjust, unreasonable, and unfair ICS rate structure by adopting a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Order) on the subject.  Among other things, the Order capped interstate rates at $0.21/minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.25/minute for collect inmate calling.  These rates took effect on February 11, 2014. 

By holding this workshop, the Commission highlights its continued commitment to ensure just, reasonable and fair rates, by hosting frank and open discussions with groups representing diverse points of view, including ICS providers, public policy leaders, elected officials, correctional facility officials, human rights organizations, and inmate advocacy groups.

We heard about the impact that the Commission’s reforms have had on inmates and their friends and families, but also learned that there is more to be done.  For example, we learned that:

  • Reduced calling rates have increased call volumes and connectivity between inmates and family and friends — and this increased connectivity may reduce recidivism rates.
  • Ancillary charges often account for 30 to 40 percent of end-user charges, and therefore can significantly decrease the funds end users have available for placing calls.
  • Many facilities do not have a deaf and hard of hearing accessibility plan in place and are unaware of the communications needs of these inmates, leaving these inmates vulnerable and their families with little or no means of contact. 
  • Very little has been done to alleviate the specific challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing inmates since the Commission released the Order.
  • The Alabama Public Service Commission has taken significant steps toward intrastate ICS reform, including the adoption of tiered rate caps and restrictions on both the types of, and rates that providers can charge in, ancillary fees.
  • Federal detention facilities operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement offer inmate calling rates, which exclude site commissions but include robust security features, well below the Commission’s caps.
  • New communications technologies are being developed in the ICS market to the benefit of inmates and their friends and families, but these new technologies must be continuously updated to respond to client demand and monitored to prevent unexpected misuse.

We thank all of the participants in our workshop.  For those who were unable to attend, you can find more information, as well as a link to an archived video, here:  https://www.fcc.gov/events/workshop-further-reform-inmate-calling-services.

Panelists also discussed the need for increased transparency.  We remind parties that responses to the one-time mandatory data collection for all ICS providers are due on or before August 18, 2014.  This data will help address any lack of transparency surrounding the industry as well as help the Commission move forward with our commitment to ensure that ICS providers continue to provide secure inmate calling at just, reasonable, and fair rates.  Data submitted by providers will be available to the public pursuant to a protective order.  More information on the data collection and how to obtain access to the data may be found here:  https://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/ics-mandatory-data-collection.

Thank you.