FCC Reduces Interstate and International Inmate Calling Rates

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the adoption of an order decreasing telephone call rates for incarcerated individuals and their families. The press release noted that reasonably priced communication services are critical for jailed persons, who are forced to accept whatever the service provider charges. Previously, the FCC explained, the rates were typically determined on a “monopoly basis.”

In large part, the FCC’s order adopts reforms the body proposed in August 2020 to address the “egregiously high rates and charges.” Last October, the Federal Trade Commission intervened on behalf of inmates who were defrauded by service providers offering fake unlimited call plans. 

This week’s order implements interim rate caps on interstate inmate calling services (ICS) at $0.12 per minute for all prisons and $0.14 for jails with average daily populations of 1,000 or more inmates. It also sets forth caps on international ICS for the first time, though the press release did not specify those rates. The order also eliminates a separate, higher rate cap for certain collect calls, modifies ancillary charge rules for third-party financial transactions, and adopts a data collection mandate in order to help set permanent rates.

Finally, the order affirmed ICS providers’ obligation to make accommodations for incarcerated people with disabilities. The order’s accompanying “further notice” proposes and seeks comment on a number of reform issues, including services provided to persons with disabilities and rate setting best practices, among other topics.

In a related action, the FCC explained, it adopted an order denying Global Tel*Link Corporation’s petition for reconsideration of the August 2020 order on remand. In this week’s decision, the commission emphasized the “jurisdictional nature of a telephone call for purposes of charging consumers depends on the physical location of the originating and terminating endpoints of the call.”