FCC stops defending caps on prison phone call rates

It could be harder for inmates to communicate with the outside world.

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Reuters/Joshua Lott
Reuters/Joshua Lott

The Federal Communications Commission's new anti-regulation stance is now affecting prisons. BuzzFeed News reports that the FCC is no longer defending two key parts of its caps on prison phone call rates: limits on intrastate call rates and the methods used to determine those rates. Ultimately, it's expected to push for eliminating the caps altogether. While this doesn't end litigation from phone service providers attempting to overturn the caps (they're merely on hold, not scrapped), it finds the FCC supporting the very companies it was challenging just weeks earlier.

The telcos have argued that the previous FCC administration had misinterpreted federal law. A clause requiring that providers be "fairly compensated" was meant to give the companies their due, according to attorneys, not to keep rates artificially low. The caps were supposedly so dire that the service operators were taking losses.

However, that still raises a question: what, if anything, will the FCC do to keep the call rates in check if the current rules go away? The limits came about precisely because rates were being used as a roundabout way of discouraging prisoners from calling. If there are no limits in place, it may be prohibitively expensive for inmates to stay in touch with family and friends. While there is the potential for abuse, fewer calls could isolate prisoners and increase the chances that they'll be maladjusted if and when they're set free.

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