Federal Regulation of Jail Phone Rates Proposed

November 18, 2014

Comments Sought on Issue with $13.5 million impact on Virginia’s Jails

By Erik Johnston

On October 22, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on regulation of inmate phone call rates. The proposed rulemaking as drafted could eventually eliminate $13.5 million in revenue for jails in Virginia.

Last year, the FCC took action that capped rates for interstate inmate calling systems (ICS). This action aimed to lower calling rates for prison inmates that make interstate calls. The new proposed rule, released on October 22, seeks similar restrictions on intrastate calling (within a state) for prisons and jails.

The new proposed rule also seeks to eliminate site commission payments from inmate calling system contracts. Many county and regional jails receive site commission payments from providers, typically negotiated through contract. In Virginia, the total revenue from these contracts is $13.5 million annually and is often used to provide additional direct inmate services.

The VACo Board of Directors considered the impacts of this potential change at their August 15, 2014 meeting and adopted a position opposing federal regulation of inmate intrastate call rates. VACo sent a letter to the FCC outlining VACo’s concerns regarding a one-size-fits all federal policy in this complex policy area. One major concern is that revenue from inmate calling system contracts offsets the costs to jails of providing this service. In many local and regional jails, the revenue is also used to provide additional direct services for inmates.

The FCC’s rulemaking acknowledges VACo’s letter and the point that eliminating site commissions would directly affect jail revenues and could lead to a reduction in services provided to inmates by facilities. The FCC seeks comment on these impacts directly from local governments and jails related to this and other issues including:

Whether facilities (e.g. jails) incur costs in the provision of inmate calling services;

How facilities should recover these costs;

Whether the FCC should establish permanent rate caps for intrastate and interstate calls;

Whether the FCC should limit ancillary charges;

Whether the FCC should prohibit site commission payments; and

Appropriate transition periods to enable facilities time to adjust.

Counties that wish to comment should reference docket number: 12-375. Comments can be uploaded to the FCC’s electronic comment filing system, which can be found here.

Comments are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred.

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