The FCC Thursday took a step toward reforming rates and charges for inmate calling services (ICS) within its jurisdiction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has twice rejected the FCC’s past efforts to address rates and charges for ICS. Recognizing the need of incarcerated individuals and their families to stay connected, the Commission responded to the court’s remands and made several proposals to ensure just and reasonable rates and charges for these services, as required by the Communications Act.
First, the Commission responded to the D.C. Circuit’s remand on the issue of ancillary service charges. These are separate fees that are not included in the per-minute rates that ICS providers charge for individual calls. The court directed the Commission to consider whether these charges can be separated into interstate and intrastate components for the purpose of excluding the intrastate components from the reach of the FCC’s rules.
The Order finds that most of these charges cannot be separated and ICS providers are generally subject to the FCC’s rules. This means they can’t charge incarcerated individuals and their families ancillary service charges other than the types allowed by the Commission’s rules, nor can they charge ancillary service fees above the Commission’s applicable fee caps.
In an accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC proposed new rate caps for interstate ICS calls based on analysis of the most recent cost data submitted by ICS providers. Specifically, the Commission proposed to substantially reduce its interstate rate caps—currently $0.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls—to $0.14 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from prisons, and $0.16 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from jails. The Further Notice also proposes to adopt rate caps for international ICS calls for the first time.
Because the D.C. Circuit has ruled that the FCC lacks the authority to cap rates for intrastate ICS calls, the Commission urges its state partners to take action to address what the agency says are “egregiously high” intrastate ICS rates across the country.