Acting on its mandate to ensure that rates for phone calls are just, reasonable and fair for all Americans, the FCC is working to rein in the excessive rates and egregious fees on phone calls paid by some of society's most vulnerable people: families trying to stay in touch with loved ones serving time in jail or prison.
In most cases, inmates' telephone calling options are limited to one or more of the following calling types: collect, debit account or pre-paid account. Also, incarcerated persons typically cannot choose their calling provider. These factors, combined with unrestricted rates, have often resulted in unreasonably high phone bills for inmates' families.
New rate caps for calls from prisons and jails
The FCC's most recent action occurred on August 4, 2016, when it set new rate caps for local and long-distance inmate calling. The new rate caps were scheduled to take effect for prisons on Dec. 12, 2016, and for jails on March 13, 2017. However, those rates were stayed by a court order, pending judicial review. As a result, the FCC's interim rate caps remain in effect. The interim rate caps apply only to interstate long-distance calls, not in-state long distance or local calls. Those rates are 21 cents a minute for debit/prepaid calls, and 25 cents a minute for collect calls.
Additional service charges
The Commission has also limited the types of ancillary services providers are permitted to charge users of inmate calling services and capped the amounts providers can charge for the permitted fees. Specifically, the Commission prohibits any additional service charges, except for the following:
|Permitted Ancillary Service Charges and Taxes||Monetary Cap Per Use / Instruction|
|Applicable taxes and regulatory fees||Provider shall pass these charges through to consumers directly with no markup|
|Automated payment fees (includes payments by interactive voice response, web or kiosk)||$3.00|
|Live agent fee, i.e., phone payment or account set up with optional use of a live operator||$5.95|
|Paper bill/statement fees (no charge permitted for electronic bills/statements)||$2.00|
|Prepaid account funding minimums and maximums||Prohibit prepaid account funding minimums and prohibit prepaid account funding maximums under $50|
|Third-party financial transaction fees, e.g., MoneyGram, Western Union, credit card processing fees and transfers from third party commissary accounts||Provider shall pass this charge through to end user directly, with no markup|
Calls involving the use of TTY
In addition, the Commission has acted to protect ICS users with communications disabilities by limiting charges for ICS calls involving the use of TTY (text telephones). Per-minute rates for TTY-to-TTY calls are capped at 25 percent of the rates providers charge for traditional ICS calls and providers are not permitted to collect any charge or fee for TTY-to-voice or voice-to-TTY calls.
Other provisions related to inmate calling services
No inmate calling service provider may block a collect call solely because it lacks a prior billing relationship with the called party's telephone provider unless the provider also offers debit, pre-paid or pre-paid collect calling options.
FCC rules require that, when an inmate places a collect call, each operator service provider must identify itself to the person receiving the call before connecting the call. Each operator service provider must also disclose, before connecting the call, how the receiving party may obtain rate quotations.
Additionally, the operator service provider must permit the receiving party to terminate the telephone call at no charge before the call is connected. These rules apply only to interstate operator service provider calls.
If you feel you or a family member has been overcharged by an inmate calling service provider, you can file a complaint with the FCC.
States may have their own rules governing intrastate ICS calls. To complain about violations of these state rules, contact the state public utility commission in the state where the call took place. State public utility commission addresses may be found at www.naruc.org/commissions or in the government section of your local telephone directory.