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FCC votes to let inmate phone companies charge higher rates

FCC votes to let inmate phone companies charge higher rates

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Facing a legal challenge from the inmate phone industry, the FCC today voted to raise the price cap on what companies can charge for calls from jails and prisons.

The FCC will allow slightly higher charges

Companies selling calling services to inmates have long been accused of taking advantage of a captive group of "customers" with no other options. In 2013, the FCC made its first move to regulate the price of some calls, and voted to expand the caps to more calls in 2015.

But inmate phone companies sued to stop the implementation of new caps before they could take effect, and successfully won a court stay that temporarily blocked some rules. The companies argued that the caps had been set so low that they had effectively been regulated out of profitability. (Advocates for caps have firmly denied that's the case.)

Today, the FCC voted in a 3–2 decision to adjust the caps for both in-state and cross-state calls. The agency previously placed the rates on a sliding scale based on the type of facility. The changes leave in place a similar scale, but one that allows for higher charges, especially for facilities with smaller inmate populations.

Cap for small jails will go from 22 cents to 31 cents

State and federal prisons were set to be capped at 11 cents per minute under the previous proposal, but will now be allowed to charge up to 13 cents per minute. For smaller jails housing up to 349 inmates, a previously set cap of 22 cents per minute has been raised to 31 cents per minute. The caps will start off slightly higher the first year, and move down over two years, the FCC says. The agency notes that states can still put in place lower caps if they choose.

"The FCC’s careful review showed that a modest increase in the rate caps set in 2015 is warranted," the agency said in a statement. "By covering the legitimate costs of jails and prisons, this adjustment will ensure continued availability and development of inmate calling services, while still resulting in significant savings for inmates and their families."