The FCC’s legal battle over prison phones just took a weird turn

Source: 
Author: 

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission moved in to cap what many consider to be exorbitant rates for inmate phone calls. Shortly thereafter, the agency was sued by the prison phone industry, which challenged the agency’s authority to set rates for calls within state lines. The lawsuit has been advancing, but the presidential election brought a new administration to the White House. Ajit Pai, the new, Donald Trump-appointed Chairman of the FCC, said in a letter that the agency would no longer defend the agency’s in-state rate caps in court.

Although that would seem to suggest a legal win by default for the phone industry, that’s not the case. Instead, a hearing continued as scheduled, with the FCC simply refusing to make its case. Other parties, however, continue to advocate for the caps in court, with the FCC on the sidelines. “It’s harder than usual to figure out what’s going on,” says Georgetown law professor Andrew Schwartzman, who argued for the rate caps in front of the court. “I’m not at all sure, however, that [Pai’s] letter… doesn’t have legal significance,” one member of the three-judge panel said as the court heard arguments. “There’s not a lot of precedent to deal with this kind of situation,” Schwartzman says.


The FCC’s legal battle over prison phones just took a weird turn