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January 04, 2013

FCC Looks to Change Current High Prices for Calls between Prisoners and Relatives

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

The FCC (News - Alert) wants to change the current system where there are excessive costs for phone calls between prisoners and their family and friends.

The Federal Communications Commission apparently wants to lower charges which can be 15 times higher than other consumer calls. Rates caps are one possibility.

Currently, two companies have a significant share of the $1.2 billion market, according to BNA Bloomberg.

Global Tel-Link Corp. and Securus Technologies represent about 70 percent of the U.S. prisoner phone market. Global Tel-Link has about half of the market and Securus comes in second-place, according to Standard & Poor’s.

Image via Shutterstock

Critics claim the market is monopolistic. In addition, the current system is based on “exclusive” calling agreements for “inmate calling services,” featuring per-call charges and collect call restrictions, BNA Bloomberg (News - Alert) said.

As of now, collect calls from a prisoner can start to as high as a $3.95 connection fee and can cost close to 90 cents a minute. For example, Martha Wright, a Washington, D.C., resident, paid about $200 a month for a weekly 15-minute call with her grandson, who was in prison but has since been released.

The FCC will determine if the current system violates the current “just and reasonable” rule found in Section 201(b) of the Communications Act. The FCC is now seeking public comments on the proposals.

“With seven hundred thousand individuals released every year from these institutions, it is crucial that we do whatever we can to strengthen family ties before these individuals return home,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement quoted by BNA Bloomberg. “One sure way to realize this is through the provisioning of affordable phone service. The overall costs of not doing so are too great, for those who re-offend place a substantially higher economic burden on taxpayers than any lost proceeds that would result from lower prison phone rates.”

However, the providers explain the current rates are needed because of specialized technology for prisoner phone calls, including monitoring equipment and the need to block certain numbers, according to NBC News. Also, there are a percentage of “bad debts” involving prisoner accounts.

In most prisons, prisoners typically call collect or use prepaid accounts.

It is believed that the FCC can only regulate calls made from one state to another. Intrastate calls are under the jurisdiction of that state's government own regulators, TMCnet said. Some eight states now ban prisons and jails from collecting commissions on contracts for prison phone services.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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