FCC Rule on Prison Phones Could Cost TN

Ending a decade-long effort, the Federal Communications Commission has set a nationwide cap on the rates inmates and their families and friends can be charged for interstate telephone services, reports The Tennessean.

Under the order approved Friday on a 2-1 vote, calls made using debit or prepaid cards will be assumed to be “just and reasonable” if they don’t exceed 12 cents per minute, while collect calls will be presumed reasonable at 14 cents per minute.

Telephone companies will be allowed to petition for an exception to those caps, but an absolute cap of 21 cents per minute will apply for debit and prepaid-card calls, while an absolute cap of 25 cents per minute will apply for collect calls.

The order also bars prison telephone companies from charging inmates for commissions paid to state and local prisons. Those fees or commissions now amount to $3.8 million annually for the state prison system and Davidson County.

Mignon Clyburn, FCC chairwoman and the chief proponent of the new caps, said that under the order, a 15-minute call that now costs $17 will cost only $3.75.

The order does not apply to intrastate calls, but the FCC has announced it will begin consideration of a similar cap on those charges.

…The order could have an immediate impact in Tennessee, where the state prison phone system is operated under an exclusive contract with Global Tel Link, one of a handful of companies nationwide to provide prison phone service.

According to state Correction Department officials, the contract with Global Tel Link generates about $2.5 million in annual revenue for the state. Davidson County, which has a contract with the same firm, got $1.3 million in payments over the past year, according to Sheriff Daron Hall. He said it’s unclear what will happen to the current contract.

Under the order, telephone companies would be effectively barred from charging inmates or their families for those fees paid to corrections departments.

Critics of current prison phone contracts charge that those payments amount to kickbacks.

The order states that “site commissions,” payments from providers to correctional facilities, may not be included in any interstate rate or charge.