FCC asks states to lower the cost of in-state inmate calls

The Federal Communications Commission says more than 1,800 jails and detention centers across the United States charge more for inmates to make in-state calls than they can legally charge for out-of-state phone calls.

That means the vast majority of inmate calls — about 80% — are charged at what the FCC calls “exorbitantly high rates.”

The Federal Communication Commission Chairman asked U.S. governors Tuesday to lower the rates in their states. Three years ago, the FCC’s attorneys were instructed to drop their legal defense of rules that would have capped the rates of in-state calls.

The federal regulatory agency can legally limit how much jails and prisons charge inmates to make interstate calls. But it doesn’t have the same authority over intrastate calls.

In 2015, under the Obama administration, the FCC created rate caps for in-state inmate calls as well, but telecom companies sued.

In 2017, under the Trump Administration, the agency abruptly dropped its defense of the rules, telling the court that a majority of members on the commission didn’t believe the agency had the authority to cap the in-state rates. The federal appellate court ruled in favor of the telecom agencies, allowing the cost of in-state calls to soar.

The FCC issued a list of facilities that charged what it called exorbitant in-state calling rates across the U.S. It included 37 jails and juvenile detention centers in Idaho, each charging between 25 cents and $3.52 for the first minute of a phone call, and as much as $1.15 a minute after that. The FCC says inmates in the Clearwater or Lewis county jails would have to pay more than $17 for a 15-minute phone call. (AP)

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