CenturyLink calls for a 5-step process to reform prison calling rates

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) has outlined to the FCC a five-step plan intended to reform the inmate calling services (ICS) rules.

Joining GTL and PayTel, CenturyLink is one of the largest providers of calling services to prisons in the markets it serves.

In a filing with the FCC, CenturyLink said that any reform to ICS rules should include:

Uniform rate cap: The ICS rules should include a uniform rate cap that applies to for both interstate and intrastate calls, with a slightly higher cap for collect calls. However, CenturyLink added that an "unrealistically low cap would make service unviable at some facilities, making reform untenable and putting widespread availability of calling services at risk at higher cost facilities."

Limiting ancillary fees: CenturyLink said that the FCC should prohibit all but a small class of specified ancillary fees, while adopting a schedule of allowable fees and related policies such as account funding minimums and maximums. In addition, the telco asked that the FCC specify that consumers can get a refund on any unused prepaid amounts on request and at no cost.

Commission limits: Prisons and jails incur their own costs in providing ICS, so these entities should have the option to require ICS providers to pay them commissions. CenturyLink said that "an obligation to pay a commission should not increase the rate cap or limits on ancillary fees, nor justify any surcharge or supplemental fee to the consumer."

Separate treatment for uniquely high-cost facilities: Other facilities like juvenile detention, mental health facilities and small jails are expensive for ICS providers to serve because they have low call volume. At the same time, the telco said that the facilities should not have to pay a large piece of ancillary fees. Further, CenturyLink advocates that the limited exemption should apply only where these facilities obtain their service under standalone ICS contracts.

Transition existing ICS arrangements: The FCC should give correctional facilities and ICS providers a "reasonable transition time" to shift to the new rule structure so they can avoid potential service disruptions or consumer account management.

In a previous filing with the Alabama Public Service Commission, CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) said that the proposed framework for inmate calling service (ICS) reform from a Pay Tel Communications consultant is not feasible.

For its own part, the FCC has been taking more of an active role in prison calling reform over the past two years. In September 2013, the FCC worked to reduce 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.

For more:
- see the FCC filing (PDF)

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