Federal Communications Commission Votes to Cap Phone Call Rates for People Who Are Incarcerated
Date:  10-26-2015

14 Years after original petition for fair rates was denied, price gouging is halted
Editor’s note: The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice was co-lead by the Center for Media Justice/Media Action Grassroots Network, Human Rights Defense Center, and Nation Inside. Human Rights Defense Center is led by formerly incarcerated activists and researchers. The broader campaign includes legal, social justice, civil rights, and thousands of prisoner families and currently incarcerated individuals.

Learn more from Nation Inside’s Campaign for #Phone Justice

(See Reentry Central’s companion video to this article to hear FCC Commissioner’s Mignon Clyburn’s stirring announcement)


Media Contact: Mark Wigfield,

(202) 418-0253 mark.wigfield@fcc.gov

For Immediate Release

Also Seeks Comment on Reforms for Video Visitation and additional reforms for international rates and ancillary charges

Washington, D.C. (October 22, 2015) – Acting on its mandate to ensure that rates for phone calls are just, reasonable and fair for all Americans, the Federal Communications Commission today took further steps to rein in the excessive rates and egregious fees on phone calls paid by some of society’s most vulnerable: people trying to stay in touch with loved ones serving time in jail or prison.

With the cost of a call sometimes ballooning to $14 per minute once inside prison walls, the FCC for the first time capped rates for local and in-state long-distance inmate calling, and cut its existing cap on interstate long-distance calls by up to 50 percent. At the same time, the FCC closed loopholes by barring most add-on fees imposed by inmate calling service (ICS) providers, and set strict limits on the few fees that remain. Extra fees and charges can increase the cost of families staying in touch by phone with loved ones who are incarcerated by as much as 40%.

While contact between inmates and their loved ones has been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, high inmate calling rates have made that contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty. Reducing the cost of these calls measurably increases the amount of contact between inmates and their loved ones, making an important contribution to the criminal justice reforms sweeping the nation.

Today’s action builds on reforms begun by the FCC in 2013, when it acted on a petition by Martha Wright, a grandmother from Washington, D.C., for relief from the exorbitant rates she was paying to call her grandson in prison. These reforms set an interim cap of 21 cents per minute on interstate debit and prepaid calls, required ICS providers to file cost data. In October 2014, the FCC sought comment on the data and proposed to reform all inmate calling rates and fees.

The Order adopted by the Commission today acts on that data by lowering the cap to 11 cents per minute for all local and long distance calls from state and federal prisons, while providing tiered rates for jails to account for the higher costs of serving jails and smaller institutions. The new caps fully cover the enhanced security requirements of inmate calling, while allowing providers a reasonable return. Following are key provisions of the Order:

Ensures that rates are just, reasonable and fair by establishing caps on all interstate and intrastate inmate calling rates : New caps reduce the average rates for the vast majority of inmate calls substantially, from $2.96 to no more than $1.65 for a 15-minute intrastate call for most calls, and from $3.15 to no more than $1.65 for most 15-minute interstate calls.

A tiered rate structure accounts for the relatively higher costs ICS providers face in serving jails (especially small jails) as opposed to state and federal prisons.

The rate caps are as follows:

  • 11 cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in state or federal prisons. Approximately 71% of inmates reside in state or federal prisons

  • 14 cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails with 1,000 or more inmates. o Approximately 85% of inmates reside in institutions with populations exceeding 1,000

  • 16 cents /minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails with 350-999 inmates.

  • 22 cents /minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails of up to 349 inmates.

  • Rates for collect calls are slightly higher in the first year and will be phased down to these caps over a two-year transition period.

    Eliminates unnecessary fees by capping or banning burdensome ancillary service charges, which can add nearly 40% to the cost of a single call

    Caps the following ancillary service charges at the levels listed below, based on cost data collected by the FCC:

  • Automated payment by phone or website: $3.

  • Payment through a live agent: $5.95.

  • Paper bill fee: $2.

  • Third-party financial transaction fees, such as fees charged by MoneyGram or Western Union, may be passed through with no mark-up. o Prohibits all other ancillary service charges.

    Allows mandatory taxes and regulatory fees to be passed through with no mark-up.

    Tackles other loopholes by prohibiting mandatory minimum payments and places a floor on mandatory maximum payments.

  • Discourages “site commission” payments: payments by ICS providers to institutions that are not related to providing calling services o Defines the term “site commission” broadly and reaffirms that site commissions are profits, not a cost of providing ICS.

    Excludes the payment of site commissions from the FCC’s determination of rate caps.

    While the Commission does not prohibit providers from paying site commissions, it strongly encourages parties to move away from site commissions and urges states to take action on this issue.

  • Bans flat-rate calling o Disallows providers from imposing so-called “flat-rate calling,” that is, a flat rate for a call up to 15 minutes regardless of actual call duration.

  • Facilitates access for people with disabilities o Requires providers to offer free access to telephone relay service (TRS) calls for inmates with communications disabilities and applies a steeply discounted rate for TTY-to-TTY calls. o Reminds correctional institutions of their obligation to make TRS available to people with communications disabilities. o Encourages jails and prisons to allow commonly used forms of TRS and requires them to report service quality issues.

  • Oversight and monitoring o To monitor compliance, ICS providers are required to file data annually with information on rates, fees, site commission payments, the number of TRS-related calls and complaints, and video visitation rates and fees.

    To ensure transparency for consumers, ICS providers must to disclose rates and fees The new rates take effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register in prisons, and 6 months after publication in the Federal Register in jails. The FCC is committed to closely monitoring the implementation of reforms, including a review in two years to determine if additional adjustments are required.

    Finally, a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on several issues, including:

    Rate caps for international ICS.

    How to promote competition in inmate calling services to reduce the need for regulation.

    The use, costs and rates of video visitation and other advanced inmate communications, services, and whether these services could be used to circumvent traditional ICS rates.

    The use of revenue-sharing agreements and whether additional reforms are necessary.

    Whether the FCC should adopt a recurring mandatory data collection and submission of contracts.

    Action by the Commission October 22, 2015 by the Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 15 - 136). Chairman Wheeler, Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel approving, with Pai and O’Rielly dissenting. Chairman Wheeler, Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai and O’Rielly issuing statements.

    Docket No.: 12-375

    ### Office of Media Relations: (202) 418-0500 TTY: (888) 835-5322 Twitter: @FCC www.fcc.gov/office-media-relations

    This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974