In blow to inmates’ families, court halts new prison phone rate caps

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Prison phone companies were granted a judicial stay that halts implementation of new, lower rate caps on inmate calls. The court did not halt new limits on certain ancillary fees related to inmate calls, though, so the overall price of prison calling should go down. Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies had asked the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia to stay new price regulations until a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission is decided, arguing that they have a high likelihood of prevailing in the case. The companies argue that the FCC overstepped its authority and that the new limits fall short of what prison phone companies are contractually obligated to pay in "site commissions" to correctional facilities. Despite protest from the FCC, the court partially granted the stay request.

"While the DC Circuit stayed implementation of new, lower rate caps, and a related rule limiting fees for certain single call services, the Court otherwise declined to delay critical reforms including implementation of caps and restrictions on ancillary fees," the FCC said in a response to the ruling. New ancillary fee limits will take effect on March 17 in prisons and on June 20 in jails. Interim rate caps set by the commission in 2013 also remain in place, the FCC said, but those limits only address calls that cross state lines. The FCC's latest vote on inmate calling rates in October 2015 went further, with lower rate caps on interstate calls and new caps on the intrastate calls that happen within a state. The newest caps were supposed to cut the cost of most calls almost in half, to 11¢ per minute. But in some extreme cases, prison phone calls can cost $14 per minute, the FCC said. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, both Democrats, said they regret the delay of the new, lower rate caps but that they believe the court will ultimately uphold them. In the meantime, the new limits on ancillary charges will make a difference, they said. "These fees can increase the cost to consumers of a call by nearly 40 percent, compounding the burden of rates that are too high."

In blow to inmates’ families, court halts new prison phone rate caps Statement (Wheeler and Clyburn) Statement (Commissioner Pai) FCC Court Challengers Buoyed By Prison Phone Stay (Multichannel News)