Prison Cell

The FCC says it will vote at the July 18 open meeting on rules to reduce video and phone rates for incarcerated people. That vote was made possible when Congress removed the last obstacle to reducing those rates.

The remaining obstacle to reducing rates for incarcerated people’s communications services (IPCS) was the limits of the FCC’s ability to regulate rates for intrastate calls and video communications. That “final loophole,” as the FCC calls it, was closed by the passage by Congress of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act. The act was signed into law on January 5, 2023.

This week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared final rules that the FCC will consider. The proposed rules would significantly lower per-minute rate caps for out-of-state and international audio calls from any type of correctional facility. It would also apply those rate caps to in-state audio calls.

The proposed rules would establish interim per-minute rate caps for video, including video visitation. The proposed rules would eliminate the ability to impose separate ancillary service charges. 

The FCC provided examples of how passage of the rules could change costs:

  • Callers in large jails using a single call service option to make a 15-minute audio call will pay $0.90 rather than as much as $11.35 using the rates in effect today. 
  • Callers in a small jail using a single call service to make a 15-minute audio call will pay $1.35 rather than the $12.10 they would pay today.
  • Video calls under the new lowest video rate cap ($0.11/minute) would cost consumers $2.75, as compared to one regional jail system in Virginia where video call users are charged a flat rate of $15 for up to a 25-minute video call, an effective rate of at least $0.60/minute. 

“Our communities benefit from incarcerated people staying connected to their loved ones,” Rosenworcel said. “This agency has long worked to end these practices. Now… we put to practice the call a bipartisan Congress made clear—that everyone deserves communications with just and reasonable rates and practices, including those who are incarcerated and their families.”

This is not the first time the FCC ruled on telecommunications and the incarcerated population. In July 2023, it certified a system from Tecore Networks aimed at preventing contraband cell phones from accessing voice, data, and messaging services in prisons.

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