FCC ruling sets pace for low-cost inmate call routing rates

The Federal Communications Commission took another step in reducing voice call rates for prison inmates via a declaratory ruling made by the regulator's Wireline Competition Bureau that prevents inmate calling service providers from blocking lower-cost call routing services.

This latest ruling comes after the FCC approved an order to reduce prisoners' long-distance calling rates for interstate phone calls between prison inmates and their families.

Similar to its long-distance order, the FCC said this latest action will help drive more contact between inmates and their family members.  

Service providers such as ConsCallHome, which offers families a subscription to a VoIP-based calling service, have faced various challenges in serving the inmate community. ConsCallHome's service allows inmates to place a lower-cost prison pay phone call to a local number, which the service provider then routes over the Internet to families living far away, avoiding the expense of a long-distance voice call.

However, inmate calling provider Securus Technologies blocked ConsCallHome, arguing that the FCC had rules that permitted blocking of other services. The FCC said the precedent cited by Securus was not applicable.

Like the long-distance order, acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported the measure.

"Today's Order reforms the rates and charges for interstate inmate calling services and provides immediate and meaningful relief, particularly for low income families across this nation," Clyburn said in a statement. "This Order fulfills our obligation to ensure just, reasonable and fair phone rates for all Americans, including the millions with loved ones in prison." 

Commissioner Ajit Pai, however, dissented on the measure. Under his proposal, Pai said he wanted to reduce interstate rates for prisoners in 36 states and cut what he called "exorbitant" rates by more than 50 percent in 26 states.

"Instead of instituting simple rate caps, as I had proposed, the Order essentially imposes full-scale rate-of-return regulation on ICS providers. I have no doubt that the Order's approach was crafted with the best of intentions," Pai said in a statement. "But I cannot support it. To put it simply, I do not believe that it is within the Commission's competence to micromanage the prices of inmate calling services."

For more:
- see the release
- and the ruling

Related articles:
FCC approves order to reduce prisoners' long-distance calling rates
Curbing prison payphone costs: FCC's Clyburn sounds off on new petition
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