ACTING CHAIRWOMAN MIGNON CLYBURNRe: Rates for Interstate Inmate Calling Services, WC Docket No. 12-375
For ten years, family, friends and legal representatives of inmates have been urging the
courts and waiting for the FCC to ease the burden of an exorbitant inmate calling rate structure.
Their wait is at long last over. Borrowing from a 1964 anthem inspired by challenges of his
time, the immortal songwriter Sam Cooke sang that it's been a long, long time in coming, but
change has finally come.
Today's Order reforms the rates and charges for interstate inmate calling services and
provides immediate and meaningful relief, particularly for low income families across this
nation. This Order fulfills our obligation to ensure just, reasonable and fair phone rates for all
Americans, including the millions with loved ones in prison.
This all began with one Washington, D.C. grandmother, Mrs. Martha Wright, who spoke
truth to power in 2003, and reminded us that one voice can still spur a movement and drive
Mrs. Wright once talked with her grandson Ulandis, who is here with us today, a couple
of times a week, about 15 minutes each call. For this minimal contact she often paid more than
$100 a month no small change for a retired nurse. In 2003, she filed a petition with the FCC
asking for help. Others who were paying a high toll for interstate inmate calls would follow her
lead and after many twists and turns we are finally here.
I am happy that Mrs. Wright's grandson and many of her fellow petitioners are our
special guests today. Millions will benefit from your perseverance and your willingness to take a
stand. Thank you for seeing us through to this important day.
Mrs. Wright's story and those of many others reveal many common themes that illustrate
why the change we put forth is so very necessary. Too often, families are forced to choose
between spending scarce resources to stay in touch with their loved ones or covering life's basic
necessities. One family member described how communicating with her husband is a "great
hardship," but that the few minutes that they are able to talk each week, "have changed his
life." Another parent told us how he has spent significant amounts of money to receive collect
calls from his son -- calls that he "cannot afford," but accepts because his son's "emotional
health and survival in prison is important" to him.
And, just yesterday, I spoke with Monalisa Johnson, a woman I met behind the stage at
the Urban League convention. You see, nine months ago her daughter began serving a 10-year
sentence in Georgia, and now the "new line item" in Ms. Johnson's monthly budget includes a
$600 per month charge to stay in touch from New York. She pays $21 for a 15-minute call,
which she describes as "highway robbery."
We've heard from inmates many of whom are concerned about the financial burden
that calling their parents, significant others, and children can impose. Too often, they are unable
to make a simple phone call on birthdays and other special occasions and from these stories and
thousands more we have learned just how much of a difference telephone contact can make. As
one inmate said: "To be able to actually hear your loved ones helps to strengthen the
relationship...unlike any letter that one can write."
These are not isolated anecdotes.
There are 2.7 million children with at least one parent in prison and they often want and
need to maintain a connection. In addition to coping with the anxiety associated with a parent
who is not there on a daily basis, these young people are often suffering severe economic
hardships, which are exacerbated by unaffordable inmate calling costs.
In the meantime, 700,000 inmates are released from correctional facilities each year. It's
critical for them to have strong support structures in order to re-assimilate successfully. Studies
have shown that having meaningful contact beyond prison walls can make a real difference in
maintaining community ties, promoting rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism. Making these
calls more affordable can facilitate all of these objectives and more.
So how much money are we really talking about? We've learned that rates can be as
high as $17 for a 15-minute call, and that inmates can pay as much as a $4 connection charge
each time and that calls made to or coming from one who is deaf or hard of hearing can and are
often even more expensive. For families on a fixed income or barely struggling to get by,
personal engagement is much too often beyond reach.
But today's Order takes action. It requires interstate rates to be cost-based. In other
words, rates and other charges to and from these facilities will be tied to the actual costs of
providing inmate calling service. The Order sets forth a framework that provides for immediate
relief from high long distance phone rates.
We adopt interim interstate rate caps and safe harbors to provide relief without delay to
families from exorbitant rates while permitting providers to secure reasonable compensation.
This Order will reduce rates that may run from over $17 to a maximum cap of $3.75. The rate
structure we adopt is grounded in the record, based on data that include security costs, yields fair
compensation to providers, and provides to these families the just and reasonable rates that this
Commission is charged with ensuring under the Communications Act.
All rates and charges, including ancillary charges must be based on the provider's actual
costs. Those in violation of this requirement could be subject to enforcement and required to
provide refunds to consumers.
Today's Order takes a measured but firm approach to reform. We also make clear that
site commissions are not related to the cost of providing inmate calling services, and therefore
cannot be included in the interstate rate. We also address related practices that drive up rates and
make it difficult for families and friends to communicate.
At the same time, this Order recognizes and puts measures in place to ensure that security
is not compromised. Inmate calling services require additional security to prevent inmates from
using phones to break the law or violate facility rules. Tying rates to actual costs is fair, is
guided by the law and will provide significant financial relief for families without sacrificing the
requisite security protocols.
I am also pleased that today's Order takes steps toward future reforms. First, the reform
includes a mandatory data collection that will enable the Commission to refine these interim
rates going forward and to take additional action, including ensuring that rates for intrastate calls
are just, reasonable and fair. And, through our Further Notice, we will collect information to
determine how to best move forward on additional reforms, including for deaf and hard of
I would like to thank the many Members of Congress for their attention to this issue and
our partners in the states, who have provided us with valuable examples of their own
reforms. Thank you to my colleagues for their expedited consideration of this Order, and a
special thank you to Commissioner Rosenworcel for her support on this important milestone.
Finally, thank you to the Wireline Competition Bureau, in coordination with the Office of
General Counsel, as well as other Offices and Bureaus for your tireless work on this item. These
dedicated public servants, truly went above and beyond the call of duty, working long nights
(well after the air conditioning went off), weekends, sacrificing quality time with their family
and friends, including: Julie Veach, Pam Arluk, Larry Barnes, Randy Clarke, Robin Cohn,
Lynne Engledow, Doug Galbi, Victoria Goldberg, Kalpak Gude, Greg Haledjian, Derian Jones,
Melissa Kirkel, Rhonda Lien, Travis Litman, Eric Ralph, Deena Shetler, Jamie Susskind, Don
Sussman, David Zesiger, Sean Lev, Suzanne Tetreault, Diane Griffin Holland, Marcus Maher,
Rick Mallen, Claude Aiken, Larry Schecker, Jim Carr, Nick Alexander, and Rosemary McEnery.
I would like to thank my staff, especially Rebekah Goodheart. I am grateful to you for seeing
this through, and Angie Kronenberg, formerly of my office, who passed to Rebekah an
incredibly stable baton.
But the most important people in the room for me today are the petitioners and their
families, led by Mrs. Martha Wright. Because of your courage and persistence, millions of
families across the country, will soon realize more just and reasonable rates.
And to you, those hundreds of persons in at least five cities across this nation,
participating in watch parties organized by the campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and thousands
more who worked for and will forever benefit from today's action, we thank you.
It's been a long time in coming, not in time to directly benefit Mrs. Wright, but a change
has finally come. Thank you.
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