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Inmate Call Regulation Continues to Evolve

Written by: Curtis A Brown

Photograph by: Credit Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times

 

FCC 13-113 Overview

 

On August 9, 2013 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a new rule, FCC 13-113, which imposes a strict inmate interstate call rate cap.  The new rule, which will affect only calls made from one state to another, requires inmate communication providers to charge no more than $0.21 per minute for interstate prepaid calling and $0.25 per minute for interstate collect calling.  It also suggests that further regulation may be still to come, including ancillary charges as well as video visitation services.  Furthermore, the FCC strongly recommends that the states themselves adopt new regulation capping inmate call rates.  Many of our clients have asked if further regulation is on the horizon and what they can expect in the coming months.

 

Future Regulation

 

The state of Alabama has already taken up action proposing revised inmate phone service rules— Alabama Public Service Commission (APSC) Docket 15957.  APSC 15957 is currently in the comment stage with final rule-making expected this year.  FCC 13-113 is used throughout the proposed rule to justify further regulation of inmate calling in the state of Alabama.

 

While the FCC has encouraged each state to review their current regulations, most do not currently have active dockets considering new rules.  However, it is likely that others will consider adopting new rules as the calendar progresses.  Here at Legacy, we employ a full-time Regulatory Affairs Department that is active with each state’s regulatory agency as well as the FCC.  We will utilize our social media sites as well as monthly newsletters and continued proactive customer care personnel to keep our clients well-informed of any pending or proposed regulation as it may come up.

 

Picture of: Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. head, center, with Michael Copps, left, and Robert McDowell.

Photograph by: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

 

Is regulation a bad thing? 

 

Of course not, but bad regulation is just that—bad.  Providing services to correctional facilities requires much more than connecting a call from a jail to another destination.  Numerous investigative and biometric solutions are also provided.  Call recording storage and secure data management are an absolute in almost all cases.  The kind of equipment required to support an inmate population is not only a considerable expense, but requires extensive repair and replacement due to inmate population usage.  In many cases, support personnel are required on site to manage and support prisons of large size.  But much more to the point, rate caps, especially FCC 13-113, apply a “one size fits all” mentality to an industry that has very unique requirements.  In most cases, inmate communications revenues are shared with the correctional facilities themselves in percentages that vary depending on the needs of the individual facility, county or state.

 

Call rates are proposed by taking all of these realities into consideration on a case-by-case basis.  Each facility is unique in their requirements and needs.  In ruling 13-113 the FCC stated that they would not consider that revenues are shared with the correctional facilities themselves in deciding the final rate.  That statement itself identifies a clear disconnect from what is happening in these facilities and the needs of individual states.  Legacy’s customers are city, county and state governments, not “for profit” companies.  The funds made from inmate calling are, in most cases, utilized for things like an “inmate welfare fund.”  Indeed, these facility revenues end up invested back into the very cities, counties and states we service.  

 

Who Dictates Inmate Call Rates?

 

Finally, it is imperative to understand that it is the facilities themselves that dictate an acceptable rate to apply to inmate calls.  This is done by way of a thorough bidding process.  On average, a county jail requesting bids for inmate call services receives bids from over twelve (12) different inmate communications providers.  Twelve separate companies.  In ruling 13-113 the FCC states that it wants to create more competition in the marketplace to further increase chances of lowering rates.  Regulation will not create more competition; it will exclude it.  The market in the United States has over fifty-six (56) identifiable inmate communications providers.  Lack of competition is not a problem.  Overregulation can be.

 

Legacy clients have not received one formal complaint regarding inmate call rates and services over the past five (5) years.  In that time we have connected millions of inmate telephone calls.  Our rates always consider the friends and family of the incarcerated.  The charge must be one that meets the needs of the correctional facility, the inmate, and the friends and family of the incarcerated.  Our track record is proof that the facilities themselves, which are largely government operated and controlled, are more than effective at ensuring the needs of all parties can be met without overregulation.

 

Looking Forward

 

What can be done to help stem the tide of overregulation?  Our clients can rest assured that Legacy will be very active in the regulatory arena.  However, it is just as imperative that counties and cities are active in speaking with their state representatives.  What do inmate call revenues bring to your correctional facility?  How do you police your own call rates and charges?  Is it a factor in your Requests for Proposals (RFPs)?  Help educate your representatives on what is happening inside your own facility.  By doing so we believe that proper regulation can come about.  If we are not all active in stating the facts as they stand, rulings much like FCC 13-113 will continue, not only decreasing revenues but also decreasing competition and reducing the tide made by the vast technology improvements of the past ten years.

 

Let us know your thoughts on the FCC ruling by leaving a comment below, or dropping us a line on Facebook or Google+.

 

About Legacy Inmate Communications

Legacy is a nationwide provider and has been a leader in the inmate communications industry for over 17 years, with headquarters in Cypress, California.  We provide favorable rates for friends and family, unparalleled customer service and a host of technology options that complement all parties involved in reducing inmate recidivism. Legacy is unique in that it is a single-source provider, researching, developing, building integration and implementing every aspect of its Inmate Telephone Systems and Video Visitation Systems.

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